Cat allergy: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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Girl that allergy to cat

1Overview

A recent study found that cats and dogs may provide a benefit by early exposing babies to certain healthy bacteria. The result was that babies exposed to a dog or cat in the home during pregnancy might have fewer problems with allergies in the future than babies who were not exposed.

When animals live in your home, like the cat, it can be difficult to identify the cause of allergies since the home contains allergens like molds and dust mites that could cause the symptoms.

What happens when a person has an allergy to cat? Often, a histamine reaction occurs wherein the cat allergen, a glycoprotein called “Fel d 1”, is being secreted by the sebaceous gland of the cats and are expressed in its saliva, urine, and dander. The patient manifests coughing, sneezing, chest tightening, wheezing, itching, and rash and in some severe cases, it may cause the airway to be inflamed, narrowed, or even closed. Thus, it requires urgent medical attention. The duration of these manifestations may last for a few minutes or longer.

2Causes

You are more likely to experience allergies if you have family members who are also allergic to certain substances. Genetics may play a role in the development of allergies.

Many will also think it’s the fur or cat’s hair that causes the problem but it’s not.
People who have cat allergies are hypersensitive to the protein in cat’s saliva, dried flakes of the skin (dander), and urine. These people have oversensitive immune systems where their bodies address these harmless things (e.g. dander) as harmful intruders and so they attack them as viruses or bacteria.

Even though a person doesn’t have any actual cat allergy, the cat can still indirectly trigger your allergies to burst because they can carry allergens like pollens, dust mites, molds and other allergens on their fur or hair.

3Symptoms

The following indications or manifestations of the allergy are the side effects of the body’s attack on the allergen. Depending on the client’s exposure to the allergen or his/her sensitivity, it may range from mild symptoms to severe ones. These may develop in just a few minutes or some may take many hours to appear.

Rash or redness of the skin, hives on the face, neck, and chest

When someone has an allergy to cat, they may develop red itchy bumps and hives when they come in contact with the cat’s saliva or its dander.

Coughing and wheezing

Allergens get into your lungs and when combined with antibodies it causes symptoms like difficulty of breathing, coughing and wheezing. Acute asthma attack and chronic asthma can be triggered by cat allergies.

Stuffy, runny itchy nose and itchy eyes

The allergen can cause swelling/ puffiness and itching of the membranes around your eyes and nose. Sometimes this causes facial pain.

Sneezing

An allergen (e.g. pollen) creates an irritation once it gets in the nose.
The immune system recognizes the pollen as invaders thus triggering the release of histamine which alerts the brain that the pollen or the allergen should be forced out through sneezing

Anaphylaxis

This can be life-threatening and happens when the body over-releases chemicals thus putting the person into shock. A person with this kind of reaction experiences more than one of the following: itchy rash; tongue swelling; inflamed throat, shortness of breath, vomiting, and low blood pressure.

4Diagnosis

To know whether someone has a cat allergy, it is best to confirm it with the doctor.  He or she may order skin testing and blood tests to see if you are allergic. Though blood tests are sometimes incorrect, he may also ask you to observe whether you still experience the symptoms if you try living without the cat for a few months.

Allergy skin prick

This test is done by doctors to observe any reactions. He pricks your skin’s surface (usually forearm) and introduces a tiny amount of the allergen. Usually, you will be most likely to be tested for some allergens at the same time. On the other forearm, you’ll also be skin pricked with control solution that has no allergen. In about 15-20 minutes, if the skin prick site becomes red and swollen or has an itchy bump, this may confirm that you are allergic to that substance.  But these effects will go away 30 minutes after the test.

This test is done by doctors to observe any reactions. He pricks your skin’s surface (usually forearm) and introduces a tiny amount of the allergen. Usually, you will be most likely to be tested for some allergens at the same time. On the other forearm, you’ll also be skin pricked with control solution that has no allergen. In about 15-20 minutes, if the skin prick site becomes red and swollen or has an itchy bump, this may confirm that you are allergic to that substance.  But these effects will go away 30 minutes after the test.

Intradermal skin testing

This test is done by injecting possible allergens under the skin of the forearm. If the site becomes reddish or has itchy bumps, then it confirms a positive reaction. This intradermal skin testing is more sensitive for detecting an allergy. This can better show a positive result when an allergy occurs. But it can also create false positive results since it may create a skin reaction when there is no allergy.

Blood Test

A blood test is done if the doctor is unable to do skin tests due to some difficulty in accessing skin like for most children and also because of some skin conditions or the client’s age. Blood testing is not indicated for clients who are suffering from a severe skin condition like psoriasis or eczema.

For some, they prefer to have the needle stick for blood testing than several skin tests most especially for babies or very young children. The doctor draws blood and is then examined for antibodies to common allergies, like the danger of the cat. There is no allergic reaction during the blood test. The result of the blood test may take days since the blood sample is sent to the laboratory for testing.

5Treatment

The treatment for this type of allergy is to identify or avoid allergens that trigger the symptoms. First, consult a certified allergist or immunologist where he or she obtain your medical history. The doctor may recommend the following standard allergy drugs (over the counter and prescription medications) to control cat allergies. These medications, however, should only be prescribed by a licensed doctor and should not be taken if there is no prescription for them.

Antihistamines

This drug blocks or inhibits the production of histamine that causes the allergy. Some of these antihistamine medications used in cat allergy are cetirizine (Zyrtec); diphenhydramine (Benadryl); loratadine (Claritin); fexofenadine (Allegra); nasal spray containing azelastine (Astelin).

Steroid sprays

These nasal sprays are used to reduce swelling and mucus in the nasal passageway. Commonly used drugs are budesonide (Rhinocort) and triamcinolone (Nasacort).

Decongestants

Decongestants are used for stuffy or congested nose or dilated blood vessels in nasal membranes and air passages. They help shrink or constrict the blood vessels in the nasal cavity allowing the air passages to open up. Commonly used decongestants are pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and suphedrine.

Clients who have high blood pressure irregular heart rhythm, heart disease should not use decongestants.

Cromolyn sodium

This drug prevents the release of chemicals of the immune system thus

lessening the symptoms

Immunotherapy

Also called allergy shots, these drugs can be given to desensitize a person to an allergen. This builds tolerance over time through gradually introducing or injecting increasing doses of an allergen that is why this treatment requires patience. It may take months or several years to achieve maximum benefit. For anaphylactic reaction, seek immediate help. Usually, epinephrine injection is administered.

6Prevention

Once a person has an allergy to a cat, getting rid of it is an option but if you cannot since most people love pets, the following strategies will help lessen the symptoms if you have a cat allergy.

  • An air cleaner or an air purifier is best to install. Use regularly a filter vacuum with
    High –efficiency particulate air (HEPA) which decreases airborne pet allergens by forcing air through a special filter that traps pet dander, dust mites, pollen and other allergens.
  • Be sure to do hand hygiene after touching a cat. Also, touching any surface and transfer dander to your eyes or face can trigger symptoms so you better wash your hands properly.
  • Ban the cat out of the bedroom or home offices. You have to restrict the cat to only a few rooms.
  • Do not use wall-to-wall carpeting since carpet accumulates 100 times more cat allergen than the floor. Clean wood or tiled flooring with a damp cloth every day to help reduce allergens.
  • Do not choose to sit on a soft chair or upholstered chair for they can trap dander. Hypoallergenic pillows are much advisable to use instead of the feather ones.
  • Frequently change the filters on air conditioning units.
  • Use throw rugs or furniture covers that are washable in hot water.
  • Wear a face mask while cleaning or dusting.
  • Humidity level in home should be around 40 percent
  • It is also best to ask help or hire a person who is not allergic to regularly clean your house.
  • Do not be tempted to give your cat a quick scratch or a kiss for it may trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Take care of your cat by providing them a well-balanced diet for the cat to have a healthier skin thus making them shed less dander and hair. Adding Omega -3 fatty acids to the diet will be helpful.
  • Bathing the cat at least once a week to remove airborne cat-allergen is just a temporary management since the allergens will just return within days. It is best to do daily combing or brushing because it removes much hair and dander that may contain the protein.
  • A cat-safe allergen shampoo may be helpful when bathing the cat.