Allergies and Asthma suck
April 11, 2011 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Please help me deal with my newly diagnosed Asthma and allergies. I know you are not my allergist.

After weeks of feeling really sick, weak and itchy I finally went to the allergist who tested me - turns out I'm very allergic to dust, mold, some pollens and cats. I'm also asthmatic. Dear mefites, please advise me on a couple of things - one is how to deal with allergies when you own a dear, loving cat? Is bathing her, getting her trimmed, etc. going to help? I was advised to not let her in my bedroom - but that is her favorite place to be - both day and night - not sure how I could ban her from there - any advice?

And for asthma, how long will it be before I am able to feel normal again when I exercise? My chest feels totally tight. I can barely run for more than 20 minutes (usually I run for an hour). I use an inhaler twice a day - once in the morning and once in the eve as prescribed by my doctor. Is it just a matter of time? Also, do you have advice on dealing with Dust? No matter how much I clean and dust, there is more and more. Are those tower air purifiers really helpful? I have one in two rooms in my condo but have not really experienced much of a difference and trying to decide if I need to buy one more for my living room. I have found plenty of information on dealing with the mold issue in my basement so I'm pretty clear on that. Any advice and guidance you can provide would be helpful.
posted by dmbfan93 to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're allergic to cats pretty much the only thing you can do to alleviate your symptoms is either get rid of the cat or get allergy shots. Did your allergist discuss allergy shots with you?
posted by dfriedman at 9:56 AM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: no, she didn't at all - i'm not exactly sure why..
posted by dmbfan93 at 9:59 AM on April 11, 2011

swimming helped me with my asthma... helped build my lung capacity.
posted by fozzie33 at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would go back to your allergist or go to a different one and explicitly ask about allergy shots.

My allergist has talked to me about allergy shots before (I ended up deciding not to get them) and said that they are usually successful for those that choose to get them.
posted by dfriedman at 10:07 AM on April 11, 2011

I am allergic to cats - when my grandma fostered cats, I'd only be able to be at her house for less than an hour at a time, for six months after, as a kid. My wife loves cats. My former best friend had a cat, and suggested I try Zyrtec when I went to his house. That worked to some extent.

My wife and I now have two cats. They are not allowed in the bedroom; we made nice little roosts for them in the living room. I take claritin at night (and sudafed as needed) as well as alavert. Zyrtec in the morning. Air purifier and weekly baths. I still need to leave the house sometimes to relent but I'm now, with this regimen, able to have cats.
posted by notsnot at 10:08 AM on April 11, 2011

First, look into allergy shots and steroidal nasal sprays or inhalers. They will both help dramatically.

Next, you can get some dry shampoos that help with cat allergies. What you're allergic to is the saliva from them cleaning themselves. My allergist said that just wiping them down with a wet paper towel a few times a day will help as well. Personally, I use Allercare dry shampoo.

I have a hepafilter in my bedroom and find that it helps dramatically.

If you're having asthma problems every day, you should be using a steroid inhaler like asmanex instead of albuterol. If your doctor really told you to use albuterol as a solution, you need a new doctor. It's a temporary fix for emergencies, not a long-term solution.
posted by Raichle at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2011

I'm allergic to cats and have three of them. A HEPA-certified air purifier helps a LOT, and once I was tested and found out that the cats were my biggest allergy, I made sure to wash my hands and face after playing with them, and it's all good.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:10 AM on April 11, 2011

Allergies and asthma are interrelated - an allergic reaction trigger asthma. Dust and mold are pretty easy (although time-consuming) issues to take care of, but the cat is a different issue entirely. Washing and trimming your cat is not going to work, because you are likely allergic to cat danger and saliva.

You can either give up your cat, or you can perhaps create a cat-free zone (ideally your bedroom, and especially your bed) so you can get the allergies, and then your asthma, under control.

In my case, I'm allergic to grass pollen, so I usually experience fairly severe hay fever in May and June. With this hay fever comes asthma.

The way that I manage it is that I take antihistamines. There are different kinds of antihistamines, and some work better than others. If you have a family doctor (or perhaps the allergist can help) ask for samples of antihistamines to experiment to find one that works for you. Benadryl would be my first choice.

Next, you need to get some asthma medication such as Symbicort.

There are very generally speaking two kinds of asthma medications: "managers" and "rescuers". Symbicort is steroid powder inhaler and a manager, and should be taken daily. Ventolin is a "rescuer", and is the puffer you see in movies etc.

Rescuers like Ventolin can help with exercise, but you really shouldn't take Ventolin more than once a day, as it will destroy the lining of your trachea. Ideally, your "manager" asthma medication will preclude the use of a rescuer like Ventolin.

I should say that I was first diagnosed with asthma about 8 years ago. I actually changed where I lived to a place with less grass, and I no longer need allergy medication, or asthma medication. So it's something to think of.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:11 AM on April 11, 2011

My husband and I are both allergic to cats, and yet we've always had at least two for the past 16 years. I could never ban them from the bedroom or anywhere else. Instead, we subsist on a steady diet of antihistamines. Benadryl is great, but it knocks you on your ass. You can not take it and function on a daily basis. Allegra is wonderful (and over the counter now) and I've been taking it since 1998. Zyrtec is great, but it knocks me out, too (YMMV). For me, Claritin works about as well as a Tic Tac, again YMMV.

A true HEPA (not HEPA-type) filter will make a big difference with both the dust and the cat allergies. Also, don't pet the cat and then touch your face. That's a big no-no. Other than that, there's not much you can do. Over time, our allergies have lessened quite a bit as our systems have gotten used to having the cats around and stopped freaking out about it so much.

Allergy shots will definitely help, but it's a HUGE commitment. We're talking years of semi-weekly shots. And it's expensive.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 10:17 AM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: I've been recently diagnosed with allergies similar to the ones you describe. Ditto with the asthma. I went through a nasty bout of hives last year, and medication didn't help much. I was told that this was why I was an automatic candidate for allergy shots: I had a severe hives outbreak that lasted for months and medication didn't control it well. Maybe you haven't crossed some kind of suffering threshold?? I've been getting allergy shots for a month or so. After awhile, I'm told, there is an 80% chance or better that I will have no allergy symptoms to the things I'm allergic to (including cats). If I'm oversimplifying the medical science, sorry. But it's something like that. Anyway, ask about allergy shots. When I lived with a cat, I took a Claritin every day and it helped. Eventually I would skip a day and not notice (i.e., no symptoms).

Asthma -- I mentioned that I stopped running because of the wheezing. The allergist gave me an inhaler which I use 15 minutes before I work out and the wheezing is gone.

So that's my hopeful-sounding anecdote.
posted by Buffaload at 10:19 AM on April 11, 2011

Another vote for "if you're using the rescue inhaler two times a day, you need an additional medication." (My doctor's guideline was to use the steroids once I started using the rescue inhaler even once per day.) So that's DEFINITELY something to get checked out.

One suggestion on the dust that I didn't see above: wash ALL your bedding in HOT water. Warm water does not kill dust mites. I found I had a huge improvement in my level of allergy symptoms after washing all my bedding in hot water and taking a vac to the pillows and the mattress.
posted by pie ninja at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2011

I was told I clearly had "asthma." I was suspicious because I had never been told this before, even though I was clearly an unhappy camper. I began practicing Buteyko breathing, and, a few months later, I no longer had "asthma." My environmental allergies improved, too. YMMV!
posted by zeek321 at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2011

I can't help with allergies. However, I can offer my personal experience with exercise and asthma.

As a child I suffered from asthma quite a bit (mostly mild coughing).

Late last year it made a bit of a come back, and I have been on two doses of preventer inhaler morning and evening ever since.

As part of my graduate training scheme I'm expected to take part in two morning exercise sessions a week. At first these seemed MASSIVELY harder but using my reliever inhaler effectively helped a lot (first two are taken as advice from my asthma nurse, final one just seemed sane):
- I use my reliever inhaler before the exercise
- I use my reliever inhaler as I find things are feeling harder than they should do
- If at any point I have used more than a certain limit of reliever inhaler (this will vary based on whatever dosages you use I should imagine) then stop, warm down slowly and take a rest day.

If you're feeling unwell a particular day (I don't know if you're like me, but I can generally feel when asthma is affecting me more - if you can't then the peak flow meter is a great way of monitoring this) then don't make it worse with exercise. Take a rest day, and do more exercise when you're better.

Over time I've found that using my preventer has made the exercise easier, but sadly hasn't seemed to get me back to where I was yet. The trick is to not run yourself into the ground, but keep working to push yourself a little as you feel able (if you've been doing exercise before its exactly the same as trying to speed up your running or increase your strength at an exercise, except you're monitoring your tightness-of-chest during exercise rather than the actual results of the exercise).

Dust wise I found that a deep clean and vacuum of my university room with the windows wide open helped, as did replacing my duvet and pillows.

It is very possible to exercise even with the asthma as a factor though, just don't feel disheartened by it. If you can run for 20mins, run for 20mins. Try to establish yourself a new baseline and work from there, rather than expecting yourself to be at the hour-long-runs of before (though there's no reason why you can't get back there with correct medication and recognition of how you're feeling on particular days)

Finally, some advice from my asthma nurse was to switch exercises to things like swimming where you're in a humid warm environment. Unfortunately I have little choice with my scheme over what exercise I do, or when I do it, so I can't vouch for that, but its worth a go.
posted by ElliotH at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2011

I have asthma as a reaction to cat allergies. Then it started getting worse, to where I was using my inhaler every day. As I didn't want to do that I tried lavender oil. I don't know if it works for everyone, but for me, it was amazing. I just put a bit in my hands and inhale it deeply 3-6 times or so. In about 5 minutes, the tightness in my chest is totally gone. (with the new research about bitter receptors in the lungs, and how activating them relaxes the smooth muscle tissue, it kind of makes sense)

Also, I tend to be able to handle a low dose of cat, but if I am around them a lot, it fills my 'allergy bucket' up, so even one minute of exposure can make me react, whereas if I haven't been around them a lot, then that little bit of exposure doesn't matter so much.

(seriously, try the lavender as a companion to your medications. I am still amazed)
posted by Vaike at 11:28 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have carpet? Get rid of it. At the very least get yourself a quality vacuum meant for allergy sufferers. Seriously, hardwood floors are the difference between "Oh you have a cat? I didn't know" and "Ok sorry I have to leave early even though I just took an Allegra".

Is the furniture in rooms you spend a lot of time in particularly covered with fur? Might be worth having some furniture that the cat isn't allowed on, or that is wood/plastic/whatever, so that you have some refuge.

When you do dust/vacuum, you generally kick up a bunch of dust that might actually make you feel *worse* for a while. Any chance of getting someone else to do that? And if they're particularly brave, someone else to wash the cat?

Nthing that you should be taking a maintenance drug if you're needing the rescue inhaler that frequently.
I took singulair for management of allergies+asthma for years-- it eventually stopped working for me, and I don't know its efficacy for the general population, but it was great while it worked. (Now I take flovent but only when I really have to, I'm not a fan.)

Also as someone diagnosed w/ asthma as an adult, it was super useful for me to have a peak flow meter, because I just couldn't figure out when I really needed treatment. (Caveat: your personal peak flow will depend on factors *besides* your weight and height; you really want to compare to your own actual healthy numbers, so be sure to get some data from when you're feeling quite good, too.)
posted by nat at 11:32 AM on April 11, 2011

Probably not true in many cases, but worth mentioning: when my allergist told me I was allergic to cats, she was wrong. She told me I had to get rid of my cats, but I found that burying my face in their fur didn't make me sneeze, so I decided not to. Both of the allergists I saw later agreed that I am not allergic to cats.

Getting rid of all of the carpeting in the house, in favor of hardwood and tile, and covering the mattresses and pillowcases with breathable covers, took care of most of my dust allergy, which turned out to be for real, and nasal spray steroids took care of the rest.
posted by Ery at 11:44 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I suggest you check out the thread Since you spend a lot of time in the bedroom, use the 20/80 rule and start there. As I posted in the above thread, I was told to get rid of my dogs. I got rid of my carpets instead, focused on clutter in the bedroom, got rid of fabric drapes, got pillow and mattress covers. While I never had to use the spray solution that fights allergens, people find it helpful for sofas and so on. HEPA filters help; I prefer the central VAC. If possible, let somebody else do the vacuuming and dusting. In other words, don't expose yourself. I find it useful to get alerts from about asthma issues in my area. If you exercise outdoors, it is handy to know when you are vulnerable. On bad days, (smog, heat, humidity, high pollen count), you can stay indoors and turn on the AC and find some kind of indoor workout. I would also suggest that you find out if scented products (I hate women's perfume and men's cologne) make your asthma worse. Strong scented products and things like bathroom cleansers cause me grief. If they exacerbate your situation, either avoid or switch to something natural.

Making the changes outlined in the above-mentioned thread solved my problem.
Good luck.
posted by PickeringPete at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: I have severe dust, pollen, and pet allergies (mostly dogs but some cat) and I currently have four cats and we're going to get a puppy in the summer. I also have severe asthma. Here's what I did/do:

*rip out all the carpets if you can. We only have two smallish area rugs in the entire house and I could feel a difference in the quality of the air almost immediately. Carpets are a haven for dust mites and pet hair. If you can't get rid of them, vacuum a LOT. Get a vacuum that's rated well for picking up pet hair and try to run it at least once a day. I know it's a pain, but if you want to keep your cat (I would!) then this will be a big help.

*we don't open the windows in the spring or fall, because of pollen.

*daily nasal steroids, allergy shots, Advair (for the asthma), and daily Claritin all make my life worth living. I'd have to do all of this even taking the cats out of the equation (my dust and pollen allergies are that severe), and once I started the regimine about ten years ago, I noticed how awful I had been feeling because I finally didn't feel awful any more. No more headaches, no more all-day tiredness. I did the allergy shots for about three years before I got to stop (when you're as asthma-triggered as I am, they won't do full strength for quite some time), but I still do all the rest, every day.

*Mattress cover and pillow covers that are washable. I also wash my bedding more than the average person, in really hot water. Some of the cats sleep on our bed during the day, but we did ban them at night (that was more of a cats playing on the bed all night issue rather than an allergy issue, though). No feather pillows, either.

*Washable window treatments; no blinds. They collect too much dust.

*No scented anything, including shampoos and detergents, and I stay away from any kind of smoke as much as possible (that means backyard firepits are out for me, but at least I can breathe).

*We still have fabric-covered furniture, but my husband vacuums all of it once a week.
posted by cooker girl at 12:53 PM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: I was diagnosed with allergies when I was 6 and among the many furred/feathered critters that make me sneeze are cats. I'm down to only one cat now but in the past I've had up to three. Here's some simple steps to make life more bearable and keep your pets:

- Talk to your doctor about rhinocort or some form of nasal inhaler. I have had really good success with these, although I suck about remembering to use them.
- Be happy that Allegra is now OTC and get yourself some.
- Shots work, but like others have said it's a big commitment. In the first few years, you will likely being going twice a week for shots and missing a shot is a pain. I took them from 6-18 and again in my late 20s. During the childhood years, the shots were worth it. As an adult it's easier for me to control my environment and I just have more to do, so they are a pain in the ass.
- Ditch all carpets you can and as it is feasible shift to leather for your sofa and comfy chairs. My allergies got about ten thousand times better once the fabric sofa left the house.
- Get a really good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and vacuum/sweep at least every other day.
- When you clean, wear a dust mask. It makes you look like Michael Jackson, but it really does work.
- If you want to leave the kitty in the bedroom, you have a few options. Try to train kitty (I know that sounds insane) to not sleep on your pillow when you are sleeping. Put a spare flat sheet over your made bed and pillows when you aren't in the bed to protect the pillows from dander and wash your sheets and pillowcases often.
- Finally, and this is the biggest. Wash your hands and face after playing with the kitty. Don't touch your face or eyes with catty hands. Trust me, after a while this all becomes second nature.
posted by teleri025 at 1:01 PM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: thank you all for your helpful advice and guidance, I really appreciate it!
posted by dmbfan93 at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2011

After a lifetime of seasonal and dust allergies, I developed an allergy to cats almost two years ago. I have and always have had cats. After trying all OTC and prescription meds, I started shots. They took 8 months to start working, but they finally are, and are working well. I was very very sick for a very long time before they shots kicked in. They are the only thing that worked, short of getting rid of the cats, so depending upon how attached you are to them, check into shots. It's a big commitment, but they are also the only thing that will actually cure you. A few years' worth of weekly shots, give or take. I give them to myself, but I am told that's fairly unusual, and most people have to go in and get injected weekly. If you have any other questions, feel free to message.
posted by FlyByDay at 4:35 PM on April 11, 2011

OP, just FYI, some asthmatics cannot take allergy shots (especially for pets) as it triggers an asthma attack. This is true for me, and I'm allergic to animals' saliva, not their dander. 3 dogs later, I've accepted that I'm going to live a pet-free life. Luckily, all found happy homes.

If this is true for you, you might have to give up your pet - I'm not saying it's a definite thing, but if you try everyone else's advice and it doesn't work, that might be the reason.

I'm on a daily maintenance dose of Singulair and Zyrtec with a rescue inhaler, and I take both religously upon waking. Otherwise, I'm wrecked for the day. I also occasionally use a portable nebulizer - like right now, when the atmosphere around me resembles that pollen forest from the movie Legend. It can be more effective than the rescue inhaler alone and keep you from developing a bronchial infection, too.

Don't be afraid to take maintenance medication; do try different things until you find the right combination for you. People react differently to Claritin, Zyrtec and so on - I personally avoid inhaled steroids, as I tend to get worse instead of better when using them and steroids make me angry and unable to sleep. My sister, on the other hand, goes to the hospital whenever she's sick if she DOESN'T take them, so again, try whatever the dr. gives you until you're able to live as normally as possible - I work out 60-90 minutes at a time, and as a child, I'd lose consciousness every time I ran. It does get better!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:42 PM on April 11, 2011

Piling on:

1- Please don't poo-poo asthma. 11 people die every day from asthma. If you actually have it, take care of it because it can and does get worse and better over the course of years. I've had it since I was a kid, and while it has eased up since I got older (and started smoking), I had a resurgence for a couple of years, triggered by a nasty flu. It's not "a cough" or "sinuses", it is your lungs closing up. Easily managed, usually, but deadly serious if it gets out of hand.

2- Many (most?) cat allergies are from cat-spit, not their fur. This is complicated because they use their spit to groom themselves, of course. But I was cat-sitting for my mom's cat, whose birth I witnessed (to my 11 year old horror) and who I grew up with, and my allergies and asthma was killing me. I washed it (gently, calmly and with water that is about 10 degrees hotter than comfortable for your hands, since they have higher body temps, the water feels nice to them), and my symptoms almost instantly reduced. The 20-something year old cat wasn't terribly angry about it, either.

3- Yes, no carpets and put plastic on the furniture. (OK, not plastic, but a towel or something where the animal likes to sleep.) Don't sweep floors, use a damp towel to pick up the dust. (Swiffer, if you like paying $8 for a fancy paper towel on a stick.)
posted by gjc at 6:35 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Similar, dogs instead of cats. Diagnosed with asthma when I was 23 or so. Pulled out ALL wall-to-wall carpets and life was immediately better. (Have someone else pull out the carpets, cos damn, that knocked me out).

Eventually our dog passed away. My asthma went away. Not had asthma in 14 years, nor owned an inhaler since then.
posted by lundman at 6:52 PM on April 11, 2011

Some people find that cutting dairy out of their diet helps with their asthma. I've found also that cutting out/cutting back severely on sugar also helps with my allergies. I have food intolerances as well, so if I'm strict on limiting those foods my other allergies lessen (I'm allergic to cats & dogs and can get asthmatic as well).

I've found that a mattress protector (specifically for dust mites) really helped with my breathing at night. I use pillow protectors as well.

Keep the cats out of the bedroom. Shower and wash your hair before bed (pollen etc will gather in your hair). Do what you can to minimize cat hair (I think people are allergic to the proteins in cat saliva, some cats have more of it than others apparently), don't sit on your bed with cat hair covered clothes etc.

Get rid of carpeting, drapes/things that pollen/dust/dander can collect. Some people find the hepa filters work. I think they do help in my experience as well. If you use a vacuum cleaner, get one with a hepa filter (so the pollen etc doesn't escape the vents and go back into the air). Use a damp cloth to dust so it doesn't go into the air, the dust mask recommendation while cleaning sounds like a good idea.

I actually took one of those rectangular air filters and strapped it to the back (intake) of a small box fan (my hepa filter died and can't afford to replace it now), it seems to help, maybe it's a placebo...

My understanding is that people are allergic to proteins in cat saliva, and some cats produce more of the proteins than others. I even read somewhere that people tend to be more allergic to dark haired cats over lighter cats, and more to male cats than female cats, but was unsure how trustworthy the source was on that one. Would be interesting to find out though.
posted by mbird at 11:57 PM on April 11, 2011

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