One way to reduce cat allergies is to wash your hands with soap and water after petting, hugging or kissing a feline.
Photo: Rose Kennedy
Photo: Rose Kennedy

8 ways to scratch cat allergies

Even if you don't own a cat, your runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and wheezing might still be caused by cat allergies, according to the College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

And you're not alone - as many as three in 10 people in the United States have allergic reactions to cats and dogs, with cat allergies being twice as common as dog allergies, according to the not-for-profit Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. Even if you suffer from cat allergies, it's still possible to prevent reactions and live more comfortably in a world full of felines. 

Here are eight ways to reduce cat allergies:

Know the symptoms. Before you assume cat allergies and take measures, make sure that's what you're suffering from, says AAFA. Reactions to cat allergens include swelling and itching of the membranes that line your eyes and nose, a stuffy nose and inflamed eyes. In some cases, a cat scratch or lick can cause your skin to become red. Some airborne cat allergens can get in the lungs and cause severe breathing problems. 

Get a diagnosis. Before taking drastic or even moderate measures to reduce cat allergies, consider getting a diagnosis from a doctor to make sure it's not a reaction to other allergens. A doctor can diagnose based on either a blood or skin test, along with evaluating symptoms and medical history.

While no breed is genuinely hypoallergenic, some allergy sufferers do better with a Devon Rex cat than they do with other breeds.
Photo: Rose Kennedy/For the AJC

Know what causes cat allergies. When you're trying to reduce cat allergies, pay special attention to the cause. Pet hair itself is not an allergen, according to the AAFA, so avoiding the fluffiest cats is not a sound strategy. 

Instead, a cat allergy is caused by people reacting to otherwise harmless proteins in a catt's urine, saliva or dander, which are dead skin cells carried on the fur and deposited elsewhere. These pet allergens can accumulate and cling in any number of places: furniture, household surfaces, walls and clothing are just a few examples. Nor do these allergens lose strength over time. They can remain at high levels for literally months and may become airborne again during dusting, vacuuming or other household activities.

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Remember cat allergens are all around us. 

Keep in mind that pet allergens can be in homes, offices and public spaces that don't have cats and never have, because people carry pet allergens on their clothing. Such allergens can also take to the air during dusting, vacuuming and other activities. Moreover, they're just as likely to be found at work or your favorite restaurant as in your bedroom.

Isolate to conquer. Once you're certain you're a victim of cat allergies, AAFA suggests avoiding contact with cats. Along with keeping pets out of your home, avoid visiting homes with cats. If you want to keep your pet, less drastic steps to reducing cat allergens include:

  • Remove your pet from the bedroom, keeping the door closed and cleaning it aggressively.
  • Counter sticky allergens by discarding your cat's favorite resting spots and wall-to-wall carpet and scrubbing walls and woodwork.
  • Wear a dust mask to vacuum.
  • Change your clothes and throw the old ones in the wash after prolonged exposure to the cat.

Try the soap and water solution. Of course if you have cat allergies you shouldn't be hugging, petting or kissing the cat. But if you can't resist, you can minimize the effect by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards, according to the ACAAI.

Consider treatment options. An allergist can suggest a treatment plan for cat allergies, according to the ACAAI. Nasal symptoms may be treated with steroid nasal sprays or oral antihistamines while eye symptoms may respond to antihistamine eyedrops. Respiratory or asthma symptoms may be prevented or relieved with inhaled corticosteroids or bronchodilators. Allergy shots are another option.

Pick a breed that's less likely to trigger symptoms. Despite any marketing claims you've seen to the contrary, there is no − repeat − no such thing as a genuinely "hypoallergenic" cat, according to AAFA. Even if a cat is hairless, your body's immune system is reacting to proteins in the cat's urine, saliva and dander, and a cat doesn't need hair to transport dander on its coat. 

However, there are a couple of house cat breeds that may incite a lesser reaction in allergy sufferers. One to consider is the Devon Rex cat, recommended by Mother Nature Network for its short, rippling coat made of downy fur that may irritate cat allergy suffers less than ordinary fur. Another pick is the Sphynx, which could be better for allergy suffers simply because it won't leave hairs laden with dander around the house.

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