A cat allergy (cat hair allergy) is an overreaction of the immune system to certain proteins released by cats. These are mainly found in the saliva or urine of the cat. They get into the respiratory tract of allergy sufferers via the air or hands. In extreme cases, an untreated cat allergy leads to bronchial asthma. Read here how a cat allergy is diagnosed and cat allergy medicine.
ICD codes for cat allergy: J30
- Cat allergy medicine: Tablets to relieve symptoms, desensitization.
- Diagnostics: skin prick test, blood test.
- Symptoms: coughing, sneezing, watering eyes, rash.
- Causes and risk factors: The immune system reacts inappropriately strongly to an actually harmless substance (allergen).
- Course and prognosis: Usually mild, in severe cases asthma develops.
- Prevention: Avoid contact with cats and cat owners as much as possible, keep your home free of allergens.
What is a cat allergy?
A cat allergy is an allergic reaction to certain proteins in cats. This protein, the so-called allergen, is given off by cats with their saliva, urine and the secretions of the skin glands. The allergens are distributed in the room air via dust particles and cat hair. Even the smallest amounts are enough to irritate the mucous membranes and airways in some people and trigger allergic reactions.
Colloquially, the term “cat hair allergy” is often used. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not the cat’s hair that triggers the cat allergy, but the particles that settle on it.
Cat allergies are the most common of all animal hair allergies. People who have had an allergic reaction to cats once usually have a permanent allergy thereafter.
Cats do not all produce the same type of allergen. This protein is slightly altered in different cat species. In most cases, people with a cat allergy are allergic to all types of cats. However, it also happens that, for example, only Angora cats trigger reactions.
The answer to the question “Cat hair allergy – what to do?” mostly depends on the subjective assessment of those affected. In many cases, a cat allergy causes such minor symptoms that a visit to the doctor is avoided. For some sufferers, the severity of the symptoms increases over time, so that a cat allergy is often not treated until many years after it develops.
What can you do about a cat allergy?
Treating a cat allergy primarily means avoiding the trigger – even if that is difficult. Many allergy sufferers have no choice but to give the cat away.
If the cat is out of the house, it is important to thoroughly clean upholstered furniture, carpets and all surfaces. Nevertheless, it happens that allergens are still in the apartment many months later.
Cat allergy medicine
There are different types of symptoms associated with a cat allergy. Sometimes the skin reacts to a cat allergy with a rash, itching and reddening. These symptoms can often be treated with special creams. Suitable creams and ointments contain active ingredients such as dexpanthenol, urea or aloe vera. They soothe skin irritations.
Cat allergy medicine: Various medications and tablets can also be used to treat the acute symptoms of a cat allergy. Although they do not cure the cat allergy, they do alleviate symptoms.
For example, antihistamines reduce the body’s sensitivity to histamine or inhibit the release of histamine. These include, for example, active ingredients such as cetirizine, fexofenadine or loratadine.
Against allergic colds with swollen mucous membranes and shortness of breath, doctors recommend inhaled solutions with beta2 sympathomimetics such as salbutamol. These free the bronchi and make breathing easier. Decongestant nasal sprays also help.
However, these must not be used for more than a week at a time, otherwise the body will get used to these substances.
Some people take cat allergy medications prophylactically to prevent symptoms. If, for example, a visit to a cat owner is due, antihistamines help to prevent or reduce an allergic reaction.
Some people with a cat allergy rely on homeopathic remedies such as Galphimia glauca, Luffa or Arundo.
Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.
Cat allergy: desensitization
Desensitization, also known as hyposensitization, is recommended as a cat allergy medicine for people with allergies to cats who either work with cats or have suffered from allergen exposure despite medication.
Desensitization is possible in different types of allergies. It lowers the sensitivity of allergy sufferers to allergens. The allergy sufferer is confronted with increasing doses of the allergen over a period of several months. After desensitization, contact with allergens only triggers minor reactions.
Vaccination for cat allergy
In addition to desensitization, there may soon be a vaccination to treat cat allergies – for the animal. Researchers have developed a vaccine in which an antibody binds to the cat’s allergen. In this way, the allergen is switched off so that it no longer triggers reactions in humans.
However, there are still no further studies to confirm the effectiveness and tolerability of the cat allergy vaccine.
How can you test if you have a cat allergy?
The right person to contact if you suspect a cat allergy is a specialist in allergies. If you are unsure about the causes of the symptoms, it is best to speak to your family doctor first. In any case, the medical history is collected in a first conversation. The doctor asks questions such as:
- How long have the complaints existed?
- Do you have these symptoms mainly when you are indoors?
- Do these symptoms only occur in your home or elsewhere too?
- Do you have pets and if so which ones?
If an allergy is suspected, a special allergy test is carried out after the anamnesis. In most cases, the so-called prick test is used. In this test, various allergens are dripped onto the patient’s forearm or back. The doctor then carefully scratches the skin underneath.
There are no skin changes in people without an allergy. If there is a cat allergy, the skin under the allergen will redden and swell slightly after about 15 to 20 minutes.
Before prescribing cat allergy medicine. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor then carries out a blood test. He examines the blood for antibodies (enzyme-allergo-sorbent test). This blood test is slightly more expensive than other examination methods and is therefore only used if the doctor already suspects a specific allergen as the trigger. Other diseases such as hay fever, asthma or an infection can be ruled out in this way.
The so-called provocation test is rarely used today. In this test, the allergen is placed directly into the nose to produce the suspected allergic reaction. The provocation test is relatively dangerous, since the severity of the allergy cannot be estimated beforehand and there is a risk of allergic shock occurring in extreme cases. For this reason, the provocation test – if at all – is only carried out under close monitoring of the patient.
In some cases, no presumptive diagnosis can be made during the first consultation. Then the doctor arranges a second appointment a few months apart. Those affected use this period to keep an allergy diary. In it they document:
- The nature, severity and duration of the symptoms
- The time of day they occur
- Medication (cat allergy medicine)
- Environmental influences.
By evaluating the allergy diary, the doctor receives specific information about the cause of the allergy. In uncertain cases, the skin test and the blood test only take place after a second consultation with the doctor.
Symptoms of cat allergy
A cat allergy manifests itself through various symptoms. Cat allergy sufferers suffer from itching or sneezing attacks, for example. These ailments, while not dangerous, are very annoying.
What is the cause of a cat allergy?
A cat allergy is triggered by certain proteins that are found in the saliva, urine, secretions of the skin and sebaceous glands and in the tears of cats. Studies show that the proteins are probably formed in the skin of the animals.
The reason why some people are allergic to these essentially harmless proteins is due to a malfunction in the immune system. In allergy sufferers, the proteins trigger an excessive reaction of the immune system. Such substances are called allergens. Not every person who has a cat allergy will react to all types of cats with the same allergy symptoms.
Cats produce different amounts of the allergen Fel d 1 depending on their age, sex and breed. The cat allergy allergen was named after the Latin name for the domestic cat, Felis domesticus. Certain cat species also have other Fel-d allergens.
Through daily brushing and licking, the animals distribute the proteins on their fur or in the urine in the litter box. The allergens spread in the room air through dust particles that cling to the proteins, as well as through hair and dander that cats continuously lose. Cat owners wear their pet’s hair or dander on their clothing and body. In this way, the allergens get to places where no cats are at all.
By the way, a cat allergy does not only exist against domestic cats. Big cats like tigers or lions also produce allergens. Some allergy sufferers therefore also show symptoms in the zoo or circus.
Course and prognosis
How the cat hair allergy progresses depends primarily on the behavior of those affected. If an allergen or contact with cats is not avoided, there is a risk that the cat allergy will worsen. If left untreated (without cat allergy medicine) and if there is regular contact with the allergen, there is a long-term risk of developing bronchial asthma as a result of the cat allergy. Affected people suffer from this for a lifetime.
How can a cat allergy be prevented?
The best way to prevent cat allergy symptoms is to avoid direct contact with cats and people who own cats. Do not stay around cat owners for long periods of time as they carry the allergens on their bodies or clothing.
People with only moderate symptoms are often able to keep their cat despite the allergy if they have a cat allergy. With a few home remedies, the concentration of allergens in the household can be kept low, thereby preventing allergy symptoms. This includes, for example, airing the room as often as possible and vacuuming the upholstered furniture and carpets regularly. It is also helpful to avoid dust collectors such as cushions, upholstered furniture, carpets or stuffed animals in the home.
Special room air filters in apartments help to keep the allergen load low. Also, try to keep the cat out of the bedroom and wash your hands after direct contact with it.
Have the cat brushed regularly by another person – preferably in the open air and not in the apartment. This also helps to prevent the symptoms of a cat allergy.