When a cat curls up in your lap and you immediately start to sneeze and your throat feels itchy, you had best leave the room. You may have an allergy to cat dander, saliva or urine. A sure-fired way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid cats. Alternatively, combine a few lifestyle changes with medications so you don’t have to give up visiting with friends and loved ones who have cats.
How Will I Know If I Have Cat Allergies?
Cat allergies could be an issue for you if you have any of these symptoms after contact with cats:
Stuffed up or runny nose
Itching of the eyes, nose, mouth, throat or skin
Red, watery eyes
Hives, raised areas or welts on your skin
Sneezing or coughing
Shortness of breath or wheezing when you breathe (asthma)
To diagnose a cat allergy, your doctor will need to complete a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms. You may also have skin tests, which involves placing tiny amounts of allergy causing substances under your skin and watching for a reaction. You doctor may also order a blood test that looks for substances in the blood that cause allergies. Be prepared for your doctor’s appointment with a list of when and how often you have symptoms and what activities you were involved in when the symptoms occurred.
Who Gets Cat Allergies?
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 15 to 30 percent of people with allergies are allergic to cats and dogs (Source: AAFA). Cat allergies are more common than dog allergies. You are at a higher risk of a cat allergy if allergies or asthma run in your family.
What Can I Do to Prevent Cat Allergies?
Cat dander that is released into the air from petting and grooming (or from the cat scratching) can stay around for a long time. You don’t have to actually touch the animal to have an allergy attack. The best strategy to prevent cat allergy symptoms is to avoid cats altogether. If that’s not possible, you can take these steps to reduce your symptoms:
Take your allergy medication before contact with cats.
Change your clothes and wash your hands after touching or being around cats.
Wash your face or press a cool wet compress to your face when you start to feel symptoms.
Have cat owners place their cat at a friend or family member’s house and clean thoroughly at least a day before you visit their home.
If you want to get a cat or you are too attached to give up the cat you already have, follow these guidelines to reduce your symptoms:
Pick the least allergenic cat breed. All cats have allergens but talking with an allergist about low-dander cat breeds may help you decide.
Use a furnace filter and air purifier designed for allergies.
Keep your cat out of your bedroom.
Reduce carpeting and upholstery in your home. Install blinds and hardwood floors instead of drapes and carpeting.
Have someone else brush your cat every day outside the house.
What Are the Best Remedies for Cat Allergy Relief?
You may need medications along with preventive steps to treat cat allergies. Ask your doctor before using any over-the-counter medications due to potential side effects.
You can ask your doctor about the following medications:
Decongestants to ease nasal congestion
Corticosteroids to reduce and prevent nasal congestion and itchiness
Antihistamines to relieve itching, sneezing, nasal congestion, and eye irritation
Montelukast (Singulair) to help with asthma and many other allergy symptoms
Nasal saline sprays to clear out allergens from your nasal passages and break up congestion
Your doctor may recommend allergy shots if your symptoms are not well controlled with other medications. Allergy shots are a type of immune therapy that involves almost daily injections of certain allergens to build up your resistance and inhibit allergic reactions.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
See your doctor if you are concerned about allergic reactions to cats. Your doctor can treat your symptoms and help prevent serious problems, including medication side effects and asthma attacks.
Notify your doctor if:
Your symptoms don’t get better with treatment
You notice medication side effects
You have new or unexplained symptoms