Millions of people are allergic to cats. Rather than a regal darling, they see cats as the enemy, with exposure to a component of cat dander—typically a chemical called "Fel d 4," but there are four other types of allergens as well, and some people are sensitive to multiple allergens—causing an immune reaction. That means cats cause coughing, itchy and watery eyes, hives, nasal congestion, sneezing, chronic sore throat, itchy throat, or wheezing.
Now scientists are a step closer to understanding why. A British study looked at the specific immune response to cat dander and located the exact immune receptor that recognizes Fel d 4. The receptor is looking out for a bacterial toxin called lipopolysaccharide, and when Fel d 4 is accompanied by LPS, it triggers an allergic reaction. Using medications—developed for sepsis and other conditions—to suppress the activity of the receptor makes the allergy go away, but this is not necessarily a practical solution. Nonetheless, it gives researchers a potentially fruitful avenue of investigation.
Short of turning off part of your immune system, here are some ways you can deal with a cat allergy.
- Keep your bedroom as a cat-free zone.
- Brush your cat regularly to reduce the problem at the source.
- Vacuum frequently and clean regularly to prevent dander from accumulating.
- Use a HEPA filter to keep allergens down.
- Wash your hands after touching your cat or anything your cat touches, such as toys and bedding.
- Quality cat food with adequate fatty acids will keep your pet’s skin healthy and less allergenic.
If you’re a cat owner with a cat allergy, you’re not alone, One third of allergy sufferers find their love for their pets conquers the discomfort, though it does mean learning to live with it. Over-the-counter antihistamines, eye drops, and inhalers can provide relief, and an allergist may be able to help you find a longer-term solution.