Cat Allergy: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment.
Cat Allergy is a common disease affecting between 10 to 20% of the world’s population, although most of these cases are mild.
Its most frequent manifestation is in the form of rhinoconjunctivitis (itching, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion that may or may not be accompanied by itching, redness and tearing of the eyes) and asthma (difficulty breathing that may or may not be accompanied by wheezing and improves with the treatments that open the airways).
These symptoms can develop after contact with cats or after being in places where there have been cats in the last days or months.
At the social level, this problem generates many costs in the form of lost working hours and decreased productivity in the case of rhinoconjunctivitis as well as expenses generated by repeated hospitalizations in the case of asthma, the consequences being even more important at the individual level, since generates a significant loss in the quality of life of the patient by not being able to carry out their normal activities of daily life as well as economic losses due to the decrease in work performance, this being even more serious in the case of asthmatic patients since they present episodes of respiratory distress that can lead to hospitalizations and serious symptoms if not treated in time.
Why do I have cat allergy?
Symptoms appear after exposure to cat proteins, the causative protein in 96% of cases being called “Fel d 1”, which occurs mainly in glands of the skin and accumulates those places in close contact such as they are the cat’s hair.
It is also produced in a minority in the saliva and other places of the cat. This protein has the ability to “fly” inside the room and therefore, even if the cat is playing on the floor, it can produce symptoms in the allergic patient sitting at the table.
Inside the home they will accumulate in those places susceptible to receiving said proteins, such as carpets and armchairs.
No patient is born with an allergy to cats but on the contrary can become allergic due to repeated exposure to it.
Until a few years ago there was a theory that the more the patient is exposed to the cat, the more likely it is that he will become allergic, but recent studies have shown that reality is not as simple as this.
In recent years, several publications (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12204868/) proved that exposure to dogs during childhood reduces the possibility of being allergic to them in adulthood, although unfortunately the results in the case of allergy to cats seem less clear, being my personal opinion that future studies will show the same effect for those patients with cat allergy.
A recent study on this can be found here (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31829464/). However, there are fewer doubts that those patients who own cats in adulthood and especially those patients who have intermittent contact with cats in the house are more susceptible to allergies to cats.
It is interesting to note that this type of behavior has also been observed in other allergic diseases such as food allergies such as peanut allergy and peanut allergy.
How to know if I have cat allergy?
For the diagnosis of cat allergy, you must present with symptoms after contact with a cat or being in places where there have been cats. It is possible that you are reading this article because a doctor told you that you had positive allergy tests to the cat but you do not feel problems, in that case you would be what we call a sensitized but asymptomatic patient.
With this I want to make it clear that allergy tests require a correct interpretation, since the need or not for treatment will depend on it, as I will describe later.
Recently, Dr. Tito Rodríguez Bouza published a study where technical details useful for the scientific community were analyzed, which help to make a correct diagnosis of the patient with cat allergy.
This data was obtained Middle East (Kuwait) patients. This study is accessible free of charge for those interested in scientific terminology, although the language used may be difficult to understand for the patient.
How can I treat Cat Allergy?
The most important aspect to reduce symptoms is to achieve a reduction in the cat’s protein exposure. Having said this, we find that most patients prefer to choose to follow a treatment rather than give up their pet, and allergist must adapt to this situation. Also, it is important to remember that symptoms can last for months since the cat is removed from the home.
If you are a symptomatic sensitized patient, you do not require treatment but you must avoid repeated contact with cats and especially avoid having a cat in the home.
In some countries the presence of stray cats is so high that the patient develops symptoms of allergy to cats in the street, these patients being therefore obliged to know their treatment
Once it has been decided that the cat will stay home the following measures are useful:
- Bathe the cat two or three times a week to reduce the amount of allergy-causing proteins in its fur.
- Do not spend money on products that claim to eliminate cat protein as their results are based on studies conducted by the company themselves and not by independent researchers.
- Get help from a specialist to find out the appropriate drug treatment
- HEPA filters: although in studies of the past decade these filters were able to reduce proteins inside the home but not the patient’s symptoms (the expense did not report a considerable benefit), the newer filters seem to obtain somewhat better results although the results remain contradictory. I personally recommend only for severe patients or in those where budget is not a problem.
Drug treatment should be aimed at eliminating itching, runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion in the case of rhinitis as well as favoring correct breathing of the patient in the case of asthma. In both cases it is the role of the Allergist to find the proper medication that is able to control the symptoms and at the same time reduce the number of side effects from the drugs. The drugs used will include antihistamines, nasal spray, eye drops and bronchodilators among others.
The allergist is the one responsible to dictate when this standard treatment is not enough and escalate the treatment to allergy vaccines ( immunotherapy ) or others.
This treatment can reduce allergies to cats but has the drawback of requiring a monthly injection for years. In rare cases, the treatment of cat allergy asthma may require monoclonal antibodies.
Additional information on cat allergy can be found in multiple places like the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
In this other article you can find videos and interesting summaries about different allergies. If you want to request an appointment online you can do it from our contact forms.