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Suddenly Allergic to Cats: Can You Develop a Pet Allergy?

Cat allergy symptoms
Yes, it is possible to suddenly become allergic to cats, since various allergies can develop at any point in your life, such as a pet allergy.

A person can develop allergies at any point in time throughout their life. It’s not always clear why some people develop allergies later in life when they didn't have them before, but your immune system is a continuously evolving organ that keeps training and retraining itself. Therefore, any change in the internal and external milieus of the human body can potentially trigger allergies.

In the case of a cat allergy, allergens can come from a cat’s:

  • Dander (dead skin)
  • Fur
  • Saliva
  • Urine

Breathing in pet dander or coming into contact with these allergens can cause an allergic reaction. However, symptoms of a cat allergy usually do not appear immediately.

In most cases, people may only experience a cat allergy as they grow older because they have repeatedly been in contact with the same allergen, and their immune system may have triggered some reaction.

  • Symptoms of a cat allergy may develop in just a few minutes or take hours to appear.
  • About 20 to 30 percent of people with allergic asthma have severe flare-ups after coming into contact with a cat.
  • Rhinitis (runny nose and congestion) seldom becomes severe before 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Asthma symptoms begin after 30 minutes.

Hence, it is possible to suddenly become allergic to cats. Various types of allergies, including cat allergies, can develop at any time throughout your life. However, symptoms may not occur until there have been several days of cumulative exposure.

How can I prevent allergies from cats?

There are common strategies to help you reduce allergens from cats, such as the following tips:

  • Don’t let cats in your bedroom. It’s better to keep this space as dander-free as possible.
  • Wash your hands after touching cats to make sure you don’t transfer allergens onto yourself.
  • Remove carpets and clean walls frequently. It is easier to keep wooden or tile flooring dander-free. Regular cleaning of walls will help reduce allergens.
  • Cover heating and air vents with a filtering material, such as cheesecloth, so that cat hair doesn’t get into the vents.
  • Declutter your house to reduce the number of surfaces, corners and crevices on which cat allergens can get attached.
  • Install a whole-house air filter, preferably a high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filter.
  • Change filters on air conditioning (AC) units and furnaces frequently.
  • Keep the humidity level in your home at about 40 percent. This makes it difficult for allergens to travel in the air.
  • Vacuum weekly with a HEPA filter vacuum.
  • Use a face mask while dusting or cleaning to prevent allergens from traveling to your lungs.

Can being allergic to pets kill you?

Anaphylaxis is a rare but life-threatening allergic reaction, usually caused by things such as insect stings or food items and even pets. It is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that occurs within minutes of exposure and requires immediate medical attention. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can get worse very quickly and lead to death within 15 minutes. 

When someone comes into contact with an allergen capable of causing anaphylaxis, they might experience symptoms such as:

Fortunately, most pet allergies aren’t typically severe enough to cause reactions like these. They generally come in the form of itchy and watery eyes. In fact, about 30 percent of people with nonspecific allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.

What are the treatment options for sudden onset of allergies?

Treatment options for a sudden onset of allergies usually depend on the symptoms, but may include:

  • Finding and avoiding known allergens
  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal sprays
  • Nasal decongestants

If you have a severe allergy that puts you at risk of anaphylactic shock, you'll need to carry an adrenaline jab (EpiPen) with you at all times.

If your symptoms don’t let up after tackling them with the doctor’s plan, you may want to discuss immunotherapy (allergy shots) with your allergist. Although this course of treatment does not provide an immediate fix, it can dramatically improve your quality of life and be well worth the time and money spent.

An allergy specialist can determine the exact source of your allergic reactions by performing a simple prick of the skin on your arm or back. Allergies are seldom specific to a single agent and many times may be due to coexisting culprits, such as dust mites and pollen.

If your signs and symptoms are severe with nasal passages feeling completely blocked and you have difficulty sleeping or wheezing, please call your doctor. Seek emergency care if wheezing or shortness of breath rapidly worsens or if you are short of breath with minimal activity.

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