10 Ways to Beat Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are itchy, sneezy, and no fun. Here are 10 ways to reduce cat allergy symptoms.

Do you have cat allergies? It doesn't mean you have to skip visits with your feline-loving friends and family—or avoid cats entirely.

With a little preparation, you should be able to go anywhere without ending up with itchy, red eyes, a tickly throat, sneezing, or even shortness of breath—all of which happen when people allergic to cats encounter cat dander (cat dander is minute scales from hair or skin that may be allergenic) and other allergens, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

The proteins found in a pet's dander, skin flakes, saliva, and urine can cause an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms in some people, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). And besides dander, pet hair or fur can collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens.

01 of 10

Be Prepared

"If I know I'm going to somebody's house who has a pet, I just take a pill 20 minutes before I go," said Alejandra Soto, 36, who has been allergic to cats, dogs, horses, and pretty much any animal with hair since childhood.

Because she doesn't always know whether someone has a pet before she visits, said Soto, she always has an antihistamine in her purse.

"It's really rare that I'll be exposed and it will catch me by surprise," said Soto, who directs communications and outreach for the New York City Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

02 of 10

Don't Choose the Soft Chair

According to the AAAAI, the best way to manage cat allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergen(s) causing the symptoms.

If the house includes upholstered furniture, this means steering clear of it, since it can be a hotbed of dander in households with cats. Not only do felines like a comfortable seat as much as the next mammal, the soft upholstery can trap dander.

Hard wooden chairs can't harbor as many cat allergens, so you're better off taking a seat there.

Even if you can't spot any cat hair on that comfy looking couch, don't go there.

03 of 10

Take Antihistamines

Non-drowsy antihistamines like loratidine (Claritin) can help keep you symptom-free and alert when you're visiting a household with pets that make you sneeze.

Angel Waldron, a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), who's also allergic to cats, takes loratidine every time she's visiting feline-friendly family members.

According to the ACAAI, oral antihistamines or other oral medications as well as steroid nasal sprays can help with allergy symptoms. Your allergist can help determine what treatment would be best to treat your cat allergy.

If you're planning a long visit to a home with cats, you may want to ask your allergist about starting medication a few weeks beforehand.

04 of 10

Practice Hand Hygiene

Two things that help fight colds and viruses—washing your hands and not touching your face—are also a good idea if you come into contact with cat allergens. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) advises that you should wash your hands and clothes to remove pet allergens after playing with a pet.

Tempted to give your friend's cat a quick scratch behind the ears? Don't. Even minimal contact can trigger an allergic reaction. And the AAAAI cautions you should try not to hug and kiss pets if you are allergic to them (as hard as that may be).

What's more, if you touch any surface and transfer dander to your face or eyes, it can trigger symptoms. So wash your hands before touching your face.

05 of 10

Have Air Filter, Will Travel

If you often visit friends or family with cats, but they don't have a HEPA air purifier in the room where you'll be staying, you may want to consider investing in a portable version. HEPA air cleaners, says AAAAI, can be a big help in removing unwanted allergenic particles from the air.

Small but powerful, HEPA air purifiers are available for under $200, and you can even use them to clean the air in your car.

"A HEPA filter is just great to have anyway," said Waldron. "It's good with pollen, it's good for mold, it's good for dust mite allergens."

06 of 10

When You Get Home

Even after a short visit to a household with cats, you should wash your clothes in hot water to avoid bringing allergens into your home. Pet allergens are easily spread, says the NIEHS. They can circulate in air and remain on carpets and furniture for months. They can also be carried on clothing into areas where there are no pets.

"When I'm home, everything I've brought, I need to wash thoroughly," said Waldron. The water should be at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

07 of 10

HEPA at Home

Installing air cleaners on heating and air conditioning systems will help keep circulating allergens to a minimum, the AAFA advises. To be most effective, air cleaners should have HEPA filters and should be on for at least four hours a day.

The AAFA also recommends that you should choose a vacuum with a HEPA filter and wear a dust mask when you vacuum. Use a damp cloth for dusting, so you can avoid stirring up allergens. You'll also want to keep your home as clean and tidy as possible, because allergens can lurk in dust and clutter.

08 of 10

Keeping a Kitty

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Getting a furry pet can mean misery if you have allergies, and most allergists will advise against it.

But if you are vigilant about it, you can reduce your exposure to pet allergens. The AAFA has a bunch of recommendations including banning pets from your bedroom and covering any heating or air conditioning vents with cheesecloth. It also suggests that you scrub bedroom walls and woodwork because allergens can stick to them, get rid of your pet's favorite pieces of furniture, and rip up wall-to-wall carpet. If you must have carpets, choose ones with low pile, and steam clean often. Toss throw rugs into the wash, and clean with hot water.

09 of 10

Healthy Cat, Less Allergy

The AAAAI suggests speaking with your veterinarian about your pet's diet. Animals that eat a balanced diet will have healthier skin, making them less likely to shed dander and hair, the group says. The AAFA also suggests having a non-allergic family member brush your pet outdoors, and putting someone else in charge of cleaning your cat's litter box.

10 of 10

Allergy Shots

If other treatments and steps are not working, the AAFA says allergy shots (immunotherapy) can be very effective. Your allergist injects a small amount of allergen into your skin and then watches you for symptoms. Over time, the amount of allergen injected is increased. Allergy shots require multiple appointments, but the treatment trains your immune system to tolerate the allergen better. Talk with your allergist to see if this option is right for you.

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