Sneezing Cat Lovers Rejoice! Asthma Drug May Help

From the WebMD Archives

June 2, 2000 -- New study findings may bring some welcome news for cat lovers who keep their beloved pets despite the fact that they're allergic to them.

The asthma drug Accolate prevented wheezing, shortness of breath, and itchy, runny, swollen noses among people with known cat allergies, compared with placebo or dummy medication, researchers report in the April issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Accolate is part of a relatively new class of asthma drugs that work by blocking certain chemicals produced by the lungs -- called leukotrines -- that cause allergy and asthma symptoms.

"The drug has the added advantage of providing some relief for the nose as well as the chest," says researcher Robert Wood, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, in a written press release.

In the study of 18 people with allergies and asthma caused by furry felines, participants received either Accolate or placebo and then were put in a small room with two cats, a bed, and a small carpet for one hour -- the room provides 10 to 100 times the level of allergens found in a normal home, the researchers note. Those participants who took Accolate had fewer allergic symptoms than people who took placebo, the study showed.

An estimated 6 million to 10 million Americans sniffle, sneeze and/or wheeze when they encounter cats, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in Washington, D.C. People with cat and dog allergies are not allergic to the animal's hair, but rather to a protein in the saliva and flakes of dead skin. Cat dander can stay suspended in the air for a long time and then stick to surfaces, including carpet.

This is one of the reasons that the bedroom should be an "allergy-free zone," Frank Virant, MD, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, tells WebMD.

"People with cat allergies [and cats] should focus on keeping the animal out of the bedroom and washing the pet around twice a month," says Virant, also an allergist in private practice at the Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center in Seattle. "There is also some evidence that antihistamines plus [drugs like the one used in the new study] may be a reasonable way to treat cat allergies." Antihistamines, such as Benadryl and Claritin, are used primarily to treat hay fever, runny nose, and sneezing.

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Allergy shots are less effective for animal allergies, he says, but occasionally they may be prescribed.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says people who choose to keep their cats can minimize symptoms by:

  • Asking a nonallergic member of the household to clean the cat's litter box.
  • Covering mattresses and cushions with zippered, plastic casings to cut down on allergen buildup.
  • Removing wall-to-wall carpeting, which collects allergens.

For more information, visit WebMD's Diseases and Conditions Allergies page.

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