I need to stop being allergic right meow.
November 7, 2012 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I am allergic to cats. I need to live with cats in a few months. Before I pay for a doctor appointment, I would like to hear about some potential allergy prevention/treatment options and about the likelihood of getting over my allergies from anyone who went through this.

I am moving in with my boyfriend in a few months (hooray!). He has two lovely cats, and I am very allergic. We will vacuum often and have cat-free rooms, but I know from prior experience that will not solve the problem. We agreed that if my allergies don't go away, we'll have to get rid of the cats, but I would like to keep the cats and hopefully stop being allergic over time.

About 15 years ago when I wanted a cat, I went to the allergy doctor and they said that they can give me shots every 2 weeks at first, and then less frequently, as my immune system starts improving against the allergies. I decided not to get a cat because it wasn't worth it at the time, so I don't know how well the shots actually work.

What do allergic people who have to live with cats currently do? Shots? If yes, what kind? How often? Claritin? Other medication?

Right now, I take Claritin-24D when I have to be around the cats, and with the Claritin, I am way less allergic and life is tolerable, but I am still sniffly, and if I touch my eyes by accident they get red and itchy. So I definitely need something stronger, and I would also prefer to not have to take something every day.

What worked best for you? Is it ridiculous to hope that the allergies will go away? Or how long did it take for the allergies to go away? Will my allergies go away if I suffer for a while medication-free, instead of relying on drugs? I will make an appointment with a doctor, but I wanted to hear from some people who went through this, to think about my options before I go in, and to know what I should expect.

Thanks for your input!
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Claritin and singulair (if you have allergic asthma). Shower frequently, make sure your bedroom is cat freeā€”but since you're moving into a place where cats already had the run of, I don't think simple vacuuming will be enough. You probably want to consider shampooing the carpet (at least in the bedroom), and making sure all bedding is new/washed.
posted by Eicats at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2012

I'm currently going through this. My girlfriend and I adopted a lovely cat a month ago and I've been allergic since childhood. I take Claritin which seems to be working well for me. As long as I remember to take it and remember to wash my hands after playing with the cat, I seem to be ok.

Will they go away entirely is anyone's guess. I'm hoping eventually my body will adapt to it but I'm not holding my breath. Anecdotally it seems like people in MeFi have experienced getting over it with their cat only after being med free for a period of time.
posted by zrail at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2012

I follow your example, with the C-24D. I tend to pack a small travel version of anti-red eye drops as well.

I've been told by a few doctors that the only way around it is via the shots method.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2012

First of all, are you sure you're allergic to cats, or is it anecdotal? "I'm itchy and sneezy around kitties, therefore I'm allergic."

I was tested and discovered that I'm allergic to grass and trees, so if it was an outdoor cat, I'd react.

We have two lovely indoor kitties and I have no reaction. I'm so happy!

Allergies don't go away. It's fine to take allergy medicine daily as long as its working. I stopped only because it made no difference and it caused weight-gain.

FWIW, Claritin did nothing for me, I found Zyrtec (generic versions of it) to be more effective, so you might want to experiment around. I like the allergy eye drops too. The $14 ones.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:58 AM on November 7, 2012

On a side note, my fiance takes allergy shots for seasonal allergies. He has been taking them for years and has to go every 4 weeks or so. So I guess that means he's not going to be 'cured' by the shots.

I am quite allergic to cats, but it also really depends on the cats and how clean they are kept. Some people don't believe in bathing pets EVER, and I know I can't even set foot in a house with them. Especially long-haired cats. But my sister bathes her harlequin shorthair cats fairly often, every couple of weeks or so, and I'm not deathly allergic to them or her house. If you can get his cats bathed on a monthly basis, that could help you a lot. Ymmv.
posted by ergo at 7:59 AM on November 7, 2012

Experiment with Zyrtec and Allegra, too (giving each one a fair shot for a week or more.) There's some variation in how well they each work for certain people.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:03 AM on November 7, 2012

Wiping down the cat/s with distilled water is supposed to reduce allergens, too. Like every couple weeks. I've never tried it. I'm allergic to my cat, and I just take Allegra and wash my hands frequently.
posted by RedEmma at 8:04 AM on November 7, 2012

Not cat specific, but my husband has allergies (dogs, bunny). He stopped being able to take Claritin D last year, and the doctor prescribed a nasal spray (fluticasone/Flonase). The nasal spray works better for all of his allergies - seasonal, pet, etc. It's great - you just have to remember to take it *every day*. With our insurance, I think it also works out to being cheaper than the Claritin-D, plus we don't have to juggle buying them vs. how recently we bought them and license laws.

If he touches his eyes or skin after touching the dogs, he still reacts, so it has not changed that.
posted by needlegrrl at 8:10 AM on November 7, 2012

Is it ridiculous to hope that the allergies will go away?

It's not something you can count on, but it does happen. We've had a cat for the last three years, and I went from taking loratadine (generic Claritin) daily to not at all and not being bothered. That said, when I'm around cats other than our own, I do get the itchy eyes and thus try to take some loratadine ahead of time if I know that cats are going to happen.
posted by ignignokt at 8:17 AM on November 7, 2012

What you want is acepromazine. It's a tranquilizer. Given in small amounts to cats, too small to actually make them lethargic, it stops cats from secreting the enzyme in their saliva that causes most cat allergies. Ask your vet. See this Web page.
posted by kindall at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2012

My anecdotal experience says to get on allergy shots now. Yeah, shots are a long haul, but I can say without exaggeration that allergy shots changed my life. No more leaky faucet nose.

There's no way to rush the process and it takes awhile to see any results. If you have a few months, get started NOW.
posted by 26.2 at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly, if you're staying in the same area, why not go get allergy shots? My sister had them as a kid and went from instantly having an asthma attack around kitties to being able to stay in places with cats without doing more than sniffling.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:23 AM on November 7, 2012

Shots worked for me, too. Not with a cat allergy, but with debilitating seasonal ones.
posted by something something at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2012

When I was five years old, we got a kitten, and my allergic-to-cats mother got allergy shots weekly for three years. No, that is not a typo. Yes, my mother is an amazing person. I have been away from home for more than a decade, and she is a lifelong cat owner with her own cat, who sits on her lap and sleeps on her bed. She has zero allergy symptoms and no longer considers herself to be allergic to cats.
posted by juniperesque at 8:42 AM on November 7, 2012

My husband takes Zyrtec each morning, has a prescription for Flonase that he uses every night, and has a prescription for eyedrops for when his eyes get itchy. That contains his cat allergy enough that the cats can sleep on the bed without much of a problem (although we don't encourage that as they tend to start bickering over territory in the wee hours!).

When he forgets to take one or the other, it's pretty obvious.
posted by telophase at 8:43 AM on November 7, 2012

If bathing is helpful, do it more often with a daily sponge bath: just use a wet washcloth and rub vigorously.
posted by acidic at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2012

Any chance of removing the carpets? Hard flooring is much easier to clean thoroughly. Especially useful in the bedroom or other rooms you'll be in a lot.

Also make sure to change filters on any a/c or heating systems, otherwise you're just blowing the same encatted air throughout the place.

Boyfriend should be the one vacuuming, by the way; it makes things cleaner in the long run but can kick up some extra junk in the short term.
posted by nat at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2012

I am quite allergic to cats (and a lot of other things) and I get allergy shots every 3 weeks, and take Zyrtec and Nasacort with a bit of Afrin in it every day.

The shots were weekly (every 4-10 days) until I hit the "maintenance dose", then they were 2 weeks, then 3, and I will soon be moving to 4 weeks. Getting to maintenance has not been a straight shot for me; I would get reactions, and they would have to reduce the dose and then build it up again. And when I got reactions while pregnant, they couldn't build back to maintenance, so I had to have a lower dose and then build back up afterward, so it feels like I've been building for years, though in fact it's been on-and-off (sometimes I have to go every week, sometimes every 2 or 3).

It does help me. I don't think shots alone or allergy medicine alone would help, but with both I keep it under control. I have a cat now for the first time in my life that's actually working out (I've tried to live with cats, without shots, twice in the past and both times it ended up with us having to get rid of the cat because I would wake up wheezing, and with my eyes swollen practically shut).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:03 AM on November 7, 2012

I am allergic to cats but lived with cats for four or five years. I took generic (regular - I didn't have a problem with congestion, and decongestants make me unhappy), generic Zyrtec, and generic Allegra at various points. They all worked OK. I avoided ever touching or petting the cats, which helped (when my roommate would go on vacation and leave me to take care of the cats, my allergies would get much worse).

As soon as I stopped living with those damn cats I felt about a million times healthier. If you really want to live with the cats, you have to get the shots. Medication is unlikely to be enough.

Also: you should not be the one vacuuming. Even with a good HEPA vacuum everything just gets churned up. Plan to be out of the house for several hours during/after vacuuming. Do not empty the vacuum bag/canister.
posted by mskyle at 9:18 AM on November 7, 2012

Claritin (OTC 10mg loratidine) and Singulair help me tremendously. I take them religiously every day. (This is key with Claritin.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2012

You've gotten a lot of advice for how to treat you - but here's another solution for the cat. I had a cat and a ton of allergic friends, and Allerpet maintained peace. I wiped my cat down with the stuff before my friends came over, and it worked wonders - even the worst allergy-prone friend of mine only got a tiny bit stuffy, and admitted that he hadn't taken his Claratin before coming over either. Another thing I did (which wasn't a product requirement, just an idea I had) was to clean and mop up well first as well, and I added a squirt of Allerpet to the mopwater/cleaning solution.

I had the same bottle for about 20 years and it was good the whole time. I imagine you'd get through it a bit faster than I did since you're living with the cats, but it still seems like it'd be worth a shot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm only mildly allergic to cats, but I have experienced the allergy going away after I've been around a particular cat for a while (without any medication). So there may be hope. Best of luck!
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:16 AM on November 7, 2012

If you can get Aerius, give that a shot. Very effective antihistamine, very low side effects (it doesn't cross the blood brain barrier), but expensive and might not be available in the USA without a prescription (it's OTC in Canada).
posted by porpoise at 10:22 AM on November 7, 2012

My experience with the shots:

I had bad allergies as a kid. Hay fever, grass fever, insect stings, you name it. I did a complete set of allergy shots. I was recently tested as an adult for a full allergy panel. Nothing came up positive, not even insect stings.

I recommend shots to everyone who is miserable with allergies, based on my own experience. It's damned inconvenient to go through the test panel and deal with getting poked every so often, but allergies are damned inconvenient too.
posted by Addlepated at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2012

I Take Claritin and Flonase. (sometimes benedryl at night)

I find prolonged exposure gets worse and worse and worse not better.

I would have a very serious* conversation about when and how the cats will be "gotten rid of" because in my experience people don't get rid of the cats, there are excuses, talking yourself into having a "cold" "being depressed" "just really tired" and doing bizarre annoying things with your living arrangement.

I found myself constantly showering, washing my face, locking my bedroom, policing my partner's clothes for hair, wiping down surfaces with dusting swiffers. I am generally a very laid back (slob) person. This was an unhealthy state of mind to exist in.

Eventually I was sick, tired, fatigued, paranoid and living with a poor shaved miserable cat who I had grown to hate.

*This talk should include criteria for getting rid of the cats, your tolerable health concerns, willing medical expenses, a timeline, and a plan for removing the cats. Where they will go and when. I would not move in until these issues are written down. ymmv.
posted by French Fry at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am allergic to cats (tested, not just cause-and-effect guesswork). We have a cat - had 3 previously.

I take a daily loratadine tablet. This works fine probably 98% of the time. As backups, I have benedryl and a prescription albuterol inhaler.

I also have a prescription fluticasone nasal spray, a neti pot, and several bottles of Visine-A all over the place (car, house, work). These are because I'm consistently stupid enough to touch the cat and not wash my hands before touching my face.

I am generally fine around the house and our cat. However, if I go to someone else's house with a cat (or dogs), I wil have an attack.

I guess I'm saying you can prepare quite a bit and it will get better with the cats in your house but don't get complacent about keeping up with the drugs. Waking up at 3AM with a mild asthma attack because you forgot to take a Claritin sucks.
posted by neilbert at 10:44 AM on November 7, 2012

I can't seem to find the link right now, but I remember reading a while back that by far the best way to decrease cat allergy symptoms was to keep the cat(s) out of the bedroom (and, by extension, off the bed). IIRC, this practice can result in cat-allergy sufferers experiencing scarcely any more symptoms than they would in a completely pet-free household.

(Anecdata: my partner and I have four cats...he's mildly/moderately allergic and felt very unpleasantly itchy back when the kitties were allowed to sleep with us. The itching stopped entirely post-kitty-bed-ban (after we'd vacuumed in there and washed the bedspread, etc.).)

If your BF's cats are accustomed to being able to come in the bedroom it might take a while for them to get used to encountering a closed door there, but they will eventually get used to it so long as you're both consistent. My cats will attempt to bolt in if we accidentally leave the door open, but when it's shut, they only really ever cry and paw at the door if we oversleep.

Another really awesomely helpful allergy-impact-reducer that may or may not be possible in your situation is to replace any wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood/laminate/marmoleum/tile and just put down area rugs (which can actually be thoroughly washed and cleaned periodically, unlike carpeting, which is NEVER really clean).

With "hard surface" floors you'll need to sweep more, etc., but remember that with carpeting just because it's not easily visible doesn't mean it's not there. Carpeting accumulates allergens like whoah, and things just get worse and worse as the padding underneath ages and starts mixing with whatever filtered through the carpet and then breaking up into lovely particulate-powdery stuff for your lungs.

So, short version: (1) keep kitties out of bedroom (and not just at night), (2) carpeting is evil/get rid of it whenever/wherever possible. Those two things alone can make a drastic night-and-day-level difference.
posted by aecorwin at 10:44 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son was just diagnosed with cat allergies. He seems to be doing well with a combination of a daily nasal spray and keeping the cat out of his room entirely. The cat had never spent a lot of time in that room, but he's banned entirely now and I washed everything. Zyrtec didn't help him at all.
posted by Sukey Says at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2012

I have a strong cat allergy (yes, I've been tested). I take Zyrtec every day and a nose spray (Veramyst). I also have prescription eye drops which I use whenever I'm going to be around cats because otherwise my eyes tear up like crazy.

I think it's worth paying for a dr. visit to get tested and to come up with a regimen that may work for you. And if it doesn't work, or works only somewhat, then the next step is the shots. I am currently doing the shots for cats and my other allergies. The doctor said it would take 4 - 6 months (with shots 2x/week) to build up the immunity. I think different clinics and doctors use different schedules, so you may find one that would be quicker. Or not.

Meanwhile, nthing the advice to keep the cats out of the room where you sleep.
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:01 PM on November 7, 2012

I give myself allergy shots twice a week. It is not a big deal for most people. It literally takes three minutes each time.

But definitely see an allergist. There are lots of ways to address the issue. And most people with cat allergies have other environmental allergies as well, which would be useful for you to know about (I'm also allergic to feathers, for instance, and getting rid of my fancy down pillows and comforter helped with my headaches...who knew? My allergist!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:07 PM on November 7, 2012

Buy an air filtering machine, or maybe two, and put one in your bedroom and one in another place where you spend time.

Put a clean sheet on top of the bed every few days, and change pillowcases regularly.

Wipe down the cats with a warm, wet washcloth every day and before you try to snuggle them. Be sure to get their paws and wherever they lick themselves the most. Start by doing it gently and for just a short amount of time -- not thoroughly -- and work up to a thorough wipe down. Start by just stroking/petting them with the washcloth; they will probably end up really liking it.

Look into products like "Allerpet", which are designed for wiping down the cats.

Vacuum first, then dust with a damp cloth (to reduce the dander flying around with the dust), then, once in a while, wipe down all walls and upholstery with a damp cloth and wash all cloth items (curtains, coverings, clothes lying around).

This may sound extreme, but it's not that much effort, your house will be generally cleaner and it can really help with the allergies.
posted by amtho at 12:29 PM on November 7, 2012

I am allergic to cats and dogs and I have six cats and a dog. I have asthma. I take a combination of inhalers and pills every day in order to survive. During spring and summer, I usually add benadryl once or more a day to deal with breakthrough allergies. I personally find that when a new animal is introduced to the house, it takes me a week or two of total allergy misery despite my medication before I adjust and my allergies decrease once again.

Zyrtec works well for me where Claritin and Allegra do not, but this varies by person. The key is to take it daily. You have to have it built up in your system before you go to live in catville.
posted by crankylex at 4:13 PM on November 7, 2012

Here's another vote for allergy shots. They worked.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:55 PM on November 7, 2012

Zyrtec plus flonase plus Rx eye drops plus shots and my seasonal allergies are nonexistent.

Cats? Cats I'm still very allergic to and test very allergic to.
posted by slateyness at 8:43 PM on November 7, 2012

My friend did allergy shots and now she has 2 cats with no problems. Previously, she'd be sneezing like crazy within 5 minutes of walking in my door!
posted by amycup at 8:57 PM on November 7, 2012

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