Allergies, Asthma & Animals
One of the most common reasons for being unable to have a cat is allergies in the family. About fifteen percent of people are allergic, and cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. There are no perfect solutions for allergies yet, but you can minimize the effect. If you have young children, recent studies show that you may actually prevent them from becoming allergic by getting a pet.
Allergies manifest themselves in symptoms from itchiness to a serious asthma attack. The body is trying to protect itself from foreign substances and produces histamines which are irritating to the body. What people are allergic to in cats is a protein in the cat’s saliva, urine and skin. The fur has nothing to do with it, that’s only where the allergens are deposited. There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat so if you’re looking for a hairless sphinx or rex, don’t bother. Any animal with fur or feathers can cause allergies. But the most common allergy is to cats, followed by dogs, then horses.
So far there’s no guaranteed way to stop your pet from producing allergens. It’s said that bathing your pet can reduce the allergen level by as much as 84%. Plain water without soap will do since feline allergens are water soluble. However, attempting to bathe some cats can also shred your arms by as much as 84%. Treatments for use on the pet to reduce allergens have not been found to be too effective either. So your best bet may be to reduce your exposure to allergens rather than trying to reduce your pet’s output of allergens.
The best way to reduce the effect of allergens on you is to keep your house well cleaned and ventilated. Avoid rugs, go for hard floors. Vacuuming only stirs up the allergens unless you have a HEPA filter. Keep your cat out of your bedroom so you can have a relatively allergy-free zone. The effect of allergens is cumulative so if you can breathe “pure” air all night, you can probably tolerate more exposure during the day. Your doctor could suggest different drugs that will alleviate symptoms to varying degrees, and immunotherapy might be something to consider.
There’s hope for the next generation however. Research is showing that growing up with a pet in the house is beneficial for kids who may be prone to allergies or asthma. A study by Dr. Juan Celedon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, followed 448 children with a family history of allergies. Children with a cat in the house were 40% less likely to have problems with asthma. The exception to this finding was if a mother and her child suffer from asthma. Here, heredity is the issue.
Another study showed that kids with a dog or cat in the house get less asthma. Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills at the University of Virginia says, “One cat will do, but two – two dogs, two cats, a cat and a dog – is even better.” The current wisdom among allergists is that exposing a child to allergens early in life will help the body build immunity against them. Studies have also shown that if children escape infections or are not exposed to allergens as infants, their immune systems later overreact to allergens.
So it seems that if parents don’t want such headaches as checking to see if a home has pets before allowing a child to sleep over, then the solution is to let your child grow up with a furry friend. And as luck would have it, there are lots of terrific ones at your nearest shelter.