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Norwich Bulletin - 7/15/2007

The Dreaded Allergy

I spent most of my teenage years taking allergy shots every week so that I could have my beloved cats. I always knew that cats and I had a special bond and nothing was going to keep me from having them as part of my life. Of course, Godís sense of humor threw and allergy at me and I learned how to deal. Eventually I was able to stop the shots and maintain myself on medication. This is the reason that when I get calls from people who need to "get rid of the cat" because of an allergy, I am not a very understanding person.

I knew a few months ago that I had pushed my luck with the cat allergies when I started judging for The International Cat Association and found myself judging 200 plus cats every weekend in a different part of the United States. All of the symptoms came back and new tests showed that once again, I will need shots.

So why can I go to an allergist and not be told I have to get rid of my animals? Because the first doctor told me just that and I told him I needed a new doctor. When I walked into Dr. Allenís office in Norwich, I told her right up front that giving up my animals and my judging was not an option. Her response was that she would never ask anyone to give up their animals. We just needed to figure out the best way for me to live with my cats and my allergies.

For me, it means shots once again. I do it gladly because of my love for cats. But I also have some information to share with my readers to help them reduce any allergies a new friend may have without having to consider giving up your cat.

Cat allergen is what causes your allergies. It is not cat hair, but it is a protein that is present in the dander and saliva of cats. When the allergens become airborne as little invisible particles, they are inhaled into the nose or lungs and can produce allergic symptoms. There are individual cats that produce less allergen than others. However, there is no relationship to the allergen production and the catís hair length. And no matter what anyone tells you, there is no such thing as a hypo-allergenic breed of cat.

There are over six million people who are allergic to cats in the United States and over a third of them have cats anyway. Reactions are different for everyone; some people get red eyes and sneeze, while others end up with asthma attacks. For the people who love their animals, there are steps to be taken in order to decrease your exposure to the allergens.

Animal allergens, whether dog or cat, can linger for months on clothing, furniture, carpets, drapes and bedding. And these are the places the cat owner must look to in order to decrease the allergens in the household. First (and hardest for those who love their kitties) is that the bedroom should become cat free. Giving the person with allergies a cat free room and eight hours of being in that room, great reduces the allergic reaction.

Many people have told me they think its too mean to keep their cat out of their bedroom Ė well, itís definitely meaner to put your cat in a new home. If buying your cat a nice piece of cat furniture for the living room or den, for him to sleep on at night is all it takes for a chance to keep your pet, it is well worth it and not mean at all.

It can take up to twenty weeks for cat allergen in carpets to decrease enough to not cause an allergic reaction. If possible, remove the carpet and use throw rugs that can easily be cleaned each week. If you cannot remove your carpet, get a spray that reduces or destroys allergens and vacuum with a high allergen containment vacuum cleaner.

If you have an indoor cat, open windows and using exhaust fans will decrease the airborne allergens. Keep your walls cleaned and your drapes and curtains should be washed often. High efficiency air cleaners (I have two of them in my house) do a good job of removing cat allergen from the air.

Washing your cats with a damp cloth, will remove surface allergen. Using warm water with a washcloth designated for your cat only, will not only relieve allergy symptoms, but your cat will like the massage! And it is a way for you to interact with your cat that will not affect your allergies too much.

Do I do all of these things? Most of them. The only difference is that my cats sleep with me and I deal with the allergies. However, I do not have carpets or heavy drapes; I have two living air machines and I do wash my cats. There is also a plus to keeping your cats when you have allergies Ė you tend to have the cleanest house in town!

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