Allergies are an overreaction of a person’s immune system to an allergen, an otherwise harmless protein that has no effect on a non-allergic person. Common sources of inhaled allergens are tree, grass and weed pollen, mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches, cats, dogs, birds, cows, horses, rabbits and rodents. The overreaction of the immune system that results from contact with one or more of these inhaled allergens may cause annoying symptoms like coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat. A person will often have allergies to more than one allergen.
We were sitting around the conference table the other day at our staff meeting, chatting about allergies, when a great topic came up. Cat allergy. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in allergies. I don’t have any of the fancy letters after my name, like my colleagues: DO, RPh, RN. I don’t need to worry about educating prescribers or patients on the ins and out of allergy. So, I ended up learning something by listening to this conversation that I thought was worth passing along.
We have had patients ask why they are being treated for their cat allergy even though they don’t own any cats. Here’s what I learned: cat dander can stick to things. It can stick to the clothes of a cat owner, and be transferred to the clothes or furniture of a cat-allergic person. It can stick to the backpack of a child and be brought to school to be shared with cat-allergic classmates. I think you’re getting the picture.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), “in a home that previously had cats, it may take up to 20 to 30 weeks before the cat allergen concentration is reduced to the levels found in animal-free homes.” Other researchers have said that cat dander could last in a home for several years after a cat has been removed.
In summary, non-cat-owner patients who are allergic to cats are often treated for their cat allergy due to the potential ‘exposure’ to cat dander. You never know when you might be exposed to cat dander…you may want to stay away from my house for the next 20 weeks-several years!