Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. Studies show that pet allergies are the second most common cause of allergies in UK homes, and that it can be even more difficult for people with asthma to cope because 50% of asthmatic children are sensitised to cat allergens.
What is a 'cat allergy'?
A person is considered allergic to cats when he or she experiences common allergy symptoms while around, or just after being around, a cat. Common symptoms of cat allergies include:
- coughing and wheezing
- red or itchy eyes
- runny, itchy, or stuffy nose
- redness of the skin in areas of the body where the cat has scratched, licked, or bitten you
- hives or rash on the face and chest
These symptoms may take a couple minutes, or even a few hours, to start manifesting. In more serious cases, if the individual has asthma, they may experience severe asthma flare-ups. Studies reveal that asthma worsens by 20% to 30% when the individual is around cats.
What makes a person allergic to cats?
The allergic reaction to cats is caused by an allergy to proteins found in the cat's saliva, dander, and urine. Hence, the individual is not allergic to the cat itself, but these tiny proteins. When a person has an overly sensitive immune system, the body will react negatively to things like cat dander and attack it as an invader, the same way it would attack viruses and bacteria. Allergy symptoms are usually just the body's way of attacking a trigger, or allergen.
In certain instances you might not be allergic to cats in general, but still experience allergic reactions from time to time when around cats. This may be because you are allergic to the pollen, mould, and other allergens that your cat has been exposed to while outdoors.
Certain breeds of cats are considered hypoallergenic because their fur is shorter and supposedly less likely to trigger allergy symptoms. However, if you do have problems with cat allergies, because the reaction is caused by pet dander in general, being around hypoallergenic breeds will not make much of a difference.
Practical advice for living allergy-free when around cats
It can be hard to explain to your friends and family that there is indeed such an allergic reaction as cat allergies, and that it's not just that you point blank dislike being around cats. Having cat allergies and going to visit, or worse yet, live with, a family member who simply adores cats can have its own set of ups and downs, but you can try these simple tips for living allergy-free when around cats.
- Make your bedroom a no-cat zone to reduce pet dander and the amount of allergens in the air.
- Don't let your cat on your bed. If you are in a situation where you can't help it, change the bedding frequently and wash it with warm water.
- Wash all home linens weekly, or twice a month, in warm water to get rid of any pet dander, pollen, or dust.
- Have a bed cover over your usual sheets and pillows so that you cat is not directly where you sleep.
- Vacuum your home regularly, especially the places where your cat frequents.
- Wash your hands right after petting your cat.
- Don't rub your eyes without washing your hands if you have just been around pets. Doing so can make your eyes itchy and watery.
- If you, or a resident family member, has asthma, you might consider using a HEPA air filter to keep the air pure and free of pollutants.
- Keep your cat clean. While it is true that cat allergies are caused by an allergic reaction to proteins found in pet dander, keeping your pet clean can help keep away dust, pollen, and other dirt that can cause allergic reactions. Use a good flea cleanser shampoo to keep the coat clean and dust free. Brush your cat to prevent dirt from getting stuck in its fur.
- If your cat dreads baths, use a micro-fibre cloth for a damp rub down. This will help get rid of dust and dander.
- Confine your cat to a single area of your home so that you can control cat allergens and improve your cleaning efforts.
- Keep over-the-counter allergy relief tablets handy in your purse if you know you're going to visit a friend of family member who has cats.