Do your eyes get itchy, or do you start to sneeze after playing with a cat? If so, you may be allergic to cats. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, cat allergies are common, affecting as many as 3 in 10 people who have allergies. Allergies caused by cats can be pretty uncomfortable, but the good news is there are some easy ways to manage a cat allergy naturally.
What Causes Cat Allergies?
Cat allergies are often caused by proteins found in dander, which are the dead skin flakes that fall off a cat’s body. If you have a cat allergy, it’s also possible to be allergic to the proteins in cat saliva and urine.
People with cat allergies, and allergies in general, often have very sensitive, overly active immune systems. When you have an allergy, your body perceives a harmless substance as harmful and tries to fight it off. When you encounter an allergen, your body produces a chemical called histamine, which is responsible for your allergy symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of a Cat Allergy?
Allergy symptoms can vary from person to person, but a few common symptoms are:
- Itchy, watery, or red eyes
- Coughing or wheezing in those with asthma
- Chest tightness or shortness of breath
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Skin rash or hives
Can You Get Rid of a Cat Allergy?
You may not be able to get rid of a cat allergy entirely, but some research suggests that allergy shots may reduce symptoms. Allergy shots work by introducing the allergen to your body in small amounts. Over time, the amount of allergen in the shot is increased. The goal is to assist your body in getting used to the allergen so it no longer sees it as a threat.
However, allergy shots can take 3-6 months to begin working, so many people try other methods, such as Over-the-Counter (OTC) antihistamine medications like Claritin or Zyrtec first.
How Can You Manage a Cat Allergy?
1. Avoid exposure
The most effective way to manage a cat allergy naturally is to avoid cats altogether, but that is not always easy if you have a friend who has a cat or if you live with someone who owns a cat.
2. Think first before buying or adopting a cat
If you own a cat and later discover you are allergic to it, you may need to rehome it. To avoid this, try to figure out whether you have an allergy before making the commitment to become a cat owner. You can get an allergy test done at a doctor’s office or pay a visit to a friend who owns a cat.
3. Clean frequently
If there is a cat in the home, try to clean its litter box frequently and bathe it often. If there is someone else who can do the cleaning, even better! Vacuuming your home regularly may also reduce your allergy symptoms. In addition, if you can, avoid using rugs, which can trap cat dander in them.
4. Invest in an air purifier
Air purifiers are a great way to reduce allergens in the air. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can reduce the cat dander in the air, thus reducing your allergy symptoms, such as itchy eyes or wheezing.
5. Open the windows
Opening the windows and getting a cross breeze can help reduce allergies in some people. However, it is not a long-term solution for persistent cat allergy symptoms.
6. Keep your distance
Make sure you have some areas of the home, such as the bedroom, that are cat-free. It is not recommended to let the cat free roam in all areas of the home if you or someone you live with is allergic. You should also avoid getting too close to the cat or petting the cat.
How to Treat Cat Allergies?
- OTC antihistamines – Common OTC antihistamines used to treat cat allergies are Claritin, Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Allegra. Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of the chemical histamine, which is responsible for causing allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and hives.
- Decongestants – Decongestants are OTC medicines such as Sudafed, or Claritin “D.” Decongestants can help relieve symptoms of a cat allergy, by providing relief from a stuffy nose. They reduce swelling in your nose and can help you breathe through your nose more easily.
- Nasal steroid sprays – Nasal steroids are medicines that you spray into your nose; they help relieve inflammation and reduce swelling and mucus. Common nasal steroid sprays are Flonase and Nasacort.
When to See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor for a cat allergy if managing your symptoms with OTC medications, and natural allergy management choices have not worked. If you have ongoing allergy symptoms such as wheezing, a stuffy nose, or itchy eyes that are interfering with your daily functioning, or with your sleep, it’s time to contact a doctor.
In some cases, other medications, such as albuterol or steroid inhalers, may be needed for those with asthma or severe cat allergies. If you are struggling with difficulty breathing or wheezing, it’s best to contact a doctor.
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Cat allergies are caused by a sensitivity to the dander, urine, and saliva in cats. Cat allergies are very common—twice as common as allergies to dogs. Cat allergies can be persistent and cause various symptoms, from a runny nose to asthma in some individuals.
It may not be possible to get rid of a cat allergy entirely. Still, there are many things you can do to manage a cat allergy naturally, such as investing in an air purifier and grooming your cat often. However, the best solution for those with cat allergies is to avoid cats altogether, if possible.
- AAFA. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (n.d.). Retrieved August 20, 2022, from https://www.aafa.org/pet-dog-cat-allergies/
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