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Cat Allergies

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How Are Cat Allergies Treated?

Cat allergies can usually be controlled with standard allergy drugs. Your doctor might recommend:

  • Antihistamines, which are available over-the-counter -- like Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl, or Zyrtec; some antihistamines. such as Astelin, come as nasal sprays.
  • Decongestants, like over-the-counter Sudafed or Allegra-D
  • Other drugs, which affect allergy or asthma symptoms in various ways. Prescription steroids -- like Flonase or Nasonex sprays -- are a common treatment for allergies. One steroid spray, Nasacort, is available over the counter.

Allergy shots are another option. Allergy shots are not always effective, and completing treatment can take years. They're also not safe for children under age 5. But they can be a huge help to some people. Ask your doctor if they make sense for you.

Unfortunately, there's no way to prevent an allergy. Some studies have shown that exposure to pets as a young child seems to reduce the risk of developing pet allergies later. On the other hand, a child who already has allergic tendencies may get worse with exposure to a pet.

Reducing Exposure to Cats

While medical treatment can help control cat allergies, the best approach is simple: avoid cats and their dander. Here are some tips.

  • Don't touch, hug, or kiss cats. It should be obvious, but some people think a little cat contact is OK. It isn't.
  • Beware of visitors who own cats. Even if your house guests leave their cats at home, they can bring the dander with them on their clothing and luggage. This indirect exposure can cause serious cat allergy symptoms in some people.
  • Plan. If you have to stay in a house with cats, ask that the cat be kept out of the room in which you will sleep for a few weeks before you arrive. Also, start taking allergy medication a few weeks beforehand. Once an allergic reaction gets started, it can be tough to control. But taking medicine can prevent it from happening in the first place.

But what if you already own a cat? Here's the most sensible advice: if you or a family member has cat allergies, you shouldn't have a cat in the home.

Of course, such harsh advice may not be easy to follow. What if your kids have already fallen in love with a kitten? What if your intended will never, ever part with her cat? If the cat has to stay, there are other things you can try.

  • Keep your distance. Limit exposure to the cat. Certainly, another family member should take responsibility for the cat's care and do things like cleaning the litter box.
  • Restrict the cat to certain sections of the house. Don't allow your cat to roam free. Keep the cat out of your bedroom at all times.
  • Keep the cat outdoors as much as possible. That's how some people get around their cat allergies.
  • Clean rigorously and often. Cat dander gets everywhere. So you need to sweep and mop the floors, vacuum the rugs, and clean furniture regularly. Make sure to get a vacuum with a HEPA filter, because regular filters may not be fine enough to catch allergens. Get rid of carpets and drapes that can trap dander.
  • Clear the air. A central air cleaner -- as well as filters on the vents themselves -- can help prevent cat dander from circulating through the house.
  • Consider bathing your cat on a regular basis. Experts aren't certain if bathing really helps reduce the amount of allergen. But if it doesn't traumatize the cat too badly, you could try it and see if it reduces symptoms.

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