Will Cat Allergies Disappear If You’re Around Cats More?

What Causes Cat Allergies

proteins cause cat allergies

Cat allergies are caused by proteins found in a cat’s dander (shed skin flakes), saliva, and urine. The major allergy-causing proteins are produced primarily in the cat’s sebaceous glands and skin.

Here are the main proteins responsible for triggering allergic reactions:

  • Fel d 1 – a protein in cat saliva and sebaceous glands. It is very light and spreads easily in the air.
  • Fel d 4 – a protein present in cat sweat and saliva.
  • Fel d 7 – a protein in cat dander.

When these allergens come in contact with the eyes, nose or throat of a person sensitive to them, it triggers antibody production and release of histamine, causing typical allergy symptoms.

No breed of cat is considered hypoallergenic, since all cats produce these allergy-causing proteins. Some cat breeds may produce fewer allergens, but they can still cause reactions.

Symptoms of Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are caused by an immune response to allergens in cat dander, saliva or urine. When exposed to these allergens, people with cat allergies can experience a range of symptoms similar to hay fever. Common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing and runny, itchy nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Facial pain from nasal congestion
  • Coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath
  • Wheezing or asthma symptoms
  • Hives or skin rash on face and chest

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (https://acaai.org/allergies/allergic-conditions/pet-allergies/), cat allergy symptoms tend to develop 10-20 minutes after exposure to the offending allergen and can last for hours afterwards. Some people may also experience swollen eyelids, sore throat, fatigue and headaches.

Does Exposure Reduce Cat Allergies?

exposure may not reduce allergies

There are mixed findings on whether exposure to cats can reduce cat allergies. Some research suggests that early and regular exposure may help develop tolerance. For example, one study found that children exposed to two or more cats or dogs in the first year of life had a lower risk of developing pet allergies by age 6 or 7 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2783630/).

However, other studies show that cat allergies often persist or get worse with continued exposure. According to the hygiene hypothesis, reduced exposure to germs in childhood may increase the likelihood of developing allergies. But this theory has not been consistently supported when it comes to pet allergies specifically. Overall the research is still inconclusive on whether extended cat exposure reduces allergy symptoms over time.

Tips For Managing Cat Allergy

tips to manage cat allergies

If you have a mild cat allergy but don’t want to part with your furry friend, there are some steps you can take to manage your symptoms.

Medications like antihistamines and nasal corticosteroid sprays can help relieve allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose. Over-the-counter options like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Flonase can provide relief when used daily (Allergic to Your Cat). For more severe allergies, prescription medications or allergy shots may be needed.

Air filters and purifiers can remove allergens like cat dander from the air. Place them in rooms where you spend the most time with your cat. Regularly changing air conditioning and heating system filters can also help (WebMD).

Be sure to wash your hands after petting or handling your cat to avoid transferring allergens to your eyes or nose. Wearing an N95 mask when cleaning litter boxes or vacuuming can also minimize exposure.

While managing a cat allergy takes diligence, for many people it’s worth it to keep their beloved pets.

Allergy Shots

One potential treatment option for people with cat allergies is allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy. This involves being exposed to small but gradually increasing amounts of cat allergens over time to desensitize the immune system (Citation).

Allergy shots work by helping the body build up immunity to cat allergens, reducing immune system reactions and allergy symptoms over time. The treatment typically involves receiving injections on a regular basis for three to five years. Allergy shots have been shown to induce long-lasting relief even after treatment is stopped (Citation).

While allergy shots can significantly reduce cat allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose, they may not completely cure the allergy. Their effectiveness also varies by individual. Allergy shots carry a small risk of side effects like redness and swelling at the injection site. Overall, immunotherapy can greatly improve quality of life for people with moderate to severe cat allergies under the supervision of an allergist.

Consider Allergy-Friendly Cat Breeds

While no cat breed is 100% hypoallergenic, some breeds produce lower levels of the Fel d 1 protein that triggers allergies in people. These cat breeds may be easier for some allergy sufferers to tolerate. Some breeds to consider include:

Siberian – With a thick triple coat, Siberians produce lower levels of allergens while still having a fluffy fur appearance. Their origins in Russia produced a natural breed that generated less dander. [1]

Bengal – An active and social breed, Bengals also tend to produce fewer allergens thanks to their short, fine coat that doesn’t shed much. Their energetic personality requires plenty of playtime and stimulation.[2]

Sphynx – While not technically hypoallergenic, the Sphynx’s lack of fur means no fur shedding and less allergen exposure. Their skin produces oils that may still trigger some reactions for allergy sufferers.

Russian Blue – Their short, dense coat produces less dander and Fel d 1 protein. Russian Blues are intelligent, playful, and loyal companions. Regular grooming is required for their silvery blue coat.

Consult a breeder to meet potential kittens in person to test your reaction. Work closely with your allergist to find a compatible breed that reduces symptoms.

Keep Cats Out of Bedrooms

One of the most effective ways to reduce cat allergy symptoms is to keep cats out of bedrooms as much as possible. This is because cats shed dander on bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniture. Dander can accumulate in these textiles and get stirred up when someone sits or lies on them. Since you spend many hours in the bedroom sleeping, keeping it as dander-free as possible can provide relief.

Consider keeping bedroom doors closed and use baby gates or other barriers to prevent cats from entering bedrooms. You may want to designate one person in the home as the primary caretaker of the cats, and have that person interact with the cats in non-bedroom areas of the home. Vacuum the bedroom frequently using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and launder bedding in hot water weekly to remove dander. Avoid letting cats sleep on beds or upholstered furniture in bedrooms.

While you can never completely eliminate dander, keeping cats out of bedrooms can significantly reduce exposure during sleep, which may provide noticeable allergy relief over time.

Bathe Cats Regularly

Bathing your cat regularly can help reduce allergens like dander that trigger allergic reactions. The proteins in a cat’s saliva, skin and urine that they groom off and distribute around the house can cause issues for people with cat allergies. Bathing your cat 1-2 times per week can wash away these allergens and keep them from building up in the cat’s fur and on surfaces around your home. Be sure to use a cat-safe shampoo and take care not to get water in your cat’s ears. Grooming right after a bath can also help remove any remaining dander. Keeping your cat’s coat clean and free of allergens through regular bathing can provide some relief for those with cat allergies.

Consider Rehoming Cat

Rehoming your cat may be an extremely difficult but necessary step for some people with severe cat allergies. If you have tried other allergy management techniques without success, rehoming your cat to a new home may be the only way to avoid constant allergy symptoms. Make sure to thoroughly clean your home to remove allergens if you do rehome your cat.

Before rehoming, try to find a friend or family member willing to adopt your cat. That way, you can still visit and get occasional exposure. If that’s not possible, work with a no-kill shelter or rescue group to find your cat a caring new home. Make sure to explain any medical or behavioral issues so the new owner is prepared.

Rehoming a beloved pet is heartbreaking. See if a trial separation helps your allergies. If symptoms disappear, rehoming may be your only option for finding relief. Work closely with your doctor, and consider allergy shots, before making this very difficult decision.

See an Allergist

see an allergist for treatment

For those with severe cat allergies that don’t seem to improve with exposure or management techniques, seeing an allergist may provide relief through customized treatment. Allergists are specially trained to diagnose the root causes of allergies and create an individualized plan to reduce symptoms.

Allergists have access to specialized tests to identify exactly what you are allergic to, how severe the allergy is, and how your immune system reacts. This can help determine if you are allergic to cats specifically or other environmental allergens that may be triggering symptoms.

Based on test results and your medical history, an allergist can provide prescription medications, immunotherapy, or allergy shots tailored to your unique situation. They can also advise on ways to modify your home environment to minimize exposure to allergens.

Working with an allergist provides the best chance at finding an effective treatment protocol so cat allergies become manageable. An expert can help determine if long-term allergy reduction is feasible or if rehoming a cat is medically advised.

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