Many people who love cats can't enjoy them due to cat allergies. An estimated 10% of the American population is allergic to house pets, and twice as many people react to cats as to dogs.
If cats give you, your child, or your friend an allergic reaction, then take heart. Scientists are getting closer to developing a vaccine that could cure cat allergies. That means you can get some kitty love without the runny nose, sneezes, or hives.
What are cat allergies?
Most sufferers mistakenly believe they are allergic to cat hair, when in fact, they are allergic to a protein called Fel d 1, which appears in cat's skin, urine, and saliva. When cats lick themselves, Fel d 1 comes off their tongues and onto their hair shafts. Every time a cat licks or scratches, it spreads the allergen across its body. That's why a hairless cat is not necessarily a hypoallergenic one - the allergen does not originate in the hair. In fact, the long-haired Siberian cat is the least likely to irritate people's allergies.
When will a cat allergy shot be available for me?
These things take time. As far back as 2011, researchers at McMaster University performed a clinical trial of a vaccine on 88 people, and the results were positive, with 40% reduction in skin reaction to cat allergens. The researchers particularly hoped that their work would affect the development of new treatments for asthma since cat allergies and asthma appear related in children. Ultimately, it didn't pan out.
In 2012, Circassia - a company based in Oxford, England - introducedToleroMune cat allergy vaccine. Not long after that, a new vaccine calledCat-SPIRE hit the market. This product required only four shots to get long-lasting results. Still, it failed in clinical trials. So, research continues.
Today, the best thing we have is immunotherapy in which a doctor injects a small amount of Fel d 1 into a sufferer's body over and over again to build up immunity. Unlike vaccines for mumps, rubella, or measles, however, shots for cat allergies are expensive.
How much do cat allergy treatments cost?
Currently, immunotherapy costs between $20 and $100 a visit, and patients could need shots as often as once week. Because that dollar figure may be cost prohibitive, many cat allergy sufferers rely on over-the-counter meds like Benadryl, or they keep an EpiPen handy in their pocket or purse. Talk to your allergist - or even your insurance company - if you are looking into immunotherapy.
Can I participate in a clinical trial for people suffering from cat allergies?
Absolutely! The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funded by the National Institute of Health, is conducting a two-year clinical study for people ages 18-65 who have suffered from cat allergies for at least two years. If you live near one of their eight locations and want to participate, give them a call.
What can I do to protect my family and friends in the meantime?
If cat allergies are keeping away family, friends, and overnight guests, you can try a few proven tricks to help minimize allergic reactions.
Keep the house sparkling clean. It's not enough to get rid of hair; you also have to eliminate dander.
Designate one or two rooms of the house as cat-free locations. In the other rooms, plug in HEPA filters.
Keep Benadryl on hand for overnight guests.
Freshen the litterbox, and avoid the topless styles. Some people's "cat allergies" are actually "cat litter allergies." The dust irritates their nasal passages.
Finally, if you don't have a cat yet, consider acquiring a low-allergen breed such as a Sphynx, Javanese, or Oriental Shorthair. Since many shelters have access to purebred cats, you can still adopt your friend instead of going to a breeder.
Cat allergies aren't fun for sufferers or cat lovers, but we're keeping our fingers crossed that researchers are going to beef up immunotherapy or develop a new vaccine any day now. In the meantime, a clean house and a fresh litterbox can help both cats and people stay healthy and happy.
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