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Help! I'm Allergic to My Cat!

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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What a cute kitty, you think. Then it comes – the sneezing, the sniffling, eyes watering like open faucets. Ugh, the bittersweet romance that you endure if you love cats but suffer cat-related allergies.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about six to 10 million Americans have cat allergies. Allergies to cats are generally based on reactions to a certain feline protein, Fel-D-1, which is secreted in their dander, saliva and urine. The dander – tiny particles released from the hair and skin – become airborne and get trapped in upholstery, curtains and carpets. Saliva does the same thing once it dries. By taking measures to reduce your exposure to dander and dried saliva particles, it can be possible to comfortably live with your pet.

Fighting Dander and Saliva

  • First, buy yourself an electrostatic high-efficiency particulate air cleaner, known as a HEPA filter, from the local supermarket. These filters can be used throughout the whole house.

  • Second, frequent vacuuming and washing of curtains and rugs can help with the more difficult task of reducing particles hidden in them. You may even want to consider removing rugs or carpet and replacing them with linoleum, tile or wood floors.

  • Third, bathe - yes, bathe - your cat twice a month, but not more frequently than that. Bathing more often can result in dry skin, which creates even more dander. If your cat turns into the Tasmanian devil at the sight of water, as many do, brush her daily and wipe her down with a damp cloth. If you have a kitten, start getting her used to a bath early in life

  • Establish "no-cat" zones in your house. The bedroom is the room most used so keeping your cat out of the bedroom as much as possible may help.

    If all else fails, see your doctor about allergy shots, which desensitize your immune system to the allergens. Be aware, though, that this can be time-consuming and expensive.

    New Hope for Allergy Sufferers

    There is new hope for your allergy or asthma symptoms. A revolutionary new drug called "anti-IgE" can allow a child or adult with moderate allergies to dander to live with a cat. The drug is administered in one or two injections each month.

    If you need an inhaler or oral steroids to curb allergic reactions, anti-IgE may prove to be a favorable replacement. Studies show that 55 percent of those taking the experimental drug no longer required inhalants. The drug also greatly reduced inflammation and other symptoms, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Even better, while harmful side effects may arise from the use of corticosteroids (normally prescribed for allergies) they are not seen in patients treated with anti-IgE.

    IgE is the antibody responsible for reacting against allergens and causing cells to release substances, such as histamines, that cause allergy symptoms. Rather than just treating symptoms such as sneezing, anti-IgE gets to the root of the problem and actually blocks this antibody.

    The drug is being developed jointly by Genentech, Inc., Novartis Pharma AG and Tanox, Inc. These companies have not yet filed an application for approval by the Food and Drug Administration, but they expect to soon, so watch for it.

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