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Cat Allergies

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How Do I Know if I Have a Cat Allergy?

Although the symptoms of a cat allergy may seem fairly obvious, it's not always the cat that causes them. It's a good idea to get confirmation from your doctor. After all, you wouldn't want to blame Mr. Whiskers unjustly.

Your doctor can do a skin or blood test to see if you're allergic. However, allergy tests aren't always correct; the doctor may also want you to try living without a cat for a few months to see how it affects your allergy symptoms.

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 in a nasal spray.
  • 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. Both Flonase and Nasonex are available by prescription or 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.
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