We barely glanced at the headline – we kind of already knew that, when it comes to pet allergies, usually "pet" means "cat." And we thought we knew why; we thought that cat dander led to itchy eyes, sneezing, and sometimes worse.
Not exactly. Among the estimated 10 percent of people who suffer from household-pet allergies, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says that allergies to cats are twice as common – and those allergies occur in about 15 percent of children (one in seven) aged 6 to 19. But it's not cat FUR or even cat dander that gets the mucus flowing; it's a protein found on a cat's skin called Fel d 1. Remember when we mentioned that hairless cats may not be a solution to cat-allergy problems? Yeah, that protein is why. So, we already knew that too.
But we did learn a few things about how it works its sneezy magic. Fel d 1 is a crafty little fella. It's very tiny and light – a tenth the size of a dust allergen – and as a result, it can float around for hours. McMaster University immunology professor Mark Larché told MyHealthNewsDaily's Lindsay Konkel that dog allergens don't float the same way, or penetrate the tissues of the sensitive as well: "The [cat allergen] particle size is just right to breathe deep into your lungs." It's also super-adherent; Fel d 1 will clamp onto human skin and clothing and stick there. It's even been found in cat-less places like classrooms, doctors' offices, "even the Arctic."
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All cats produce this protein (scientists think it's related to pheromone signaling), so a hypoallergenic cat is basically a unicorn – but some cats produce more than others. Unneutered males seem to produce the most. And you can reduce the effects of Fel d 1 with the usual fixes; avoiding contact with cats is one way, but it's kind of depressing as solutions go, and it may not even work (hugging someone who hugged a cat could have you running for the Kleenex). Instead, keep cats out of bedrooms; use HEPA air filters, and vacuums intended for pet hair and dander, to cut down on those tiny particles; and go with hardwood floors or washable area rugs instead of dust-trapping wall-to-wall. You can even try bathing the cat, although we'd rather just live with the runny nose.
You can also see an allergist about shots or other treatments for allergies to pets, but Larché has developed a cat-allergy vaccine that's about to enter Phase 3 clinical trials this autumn. Tests to date indicate that the vaccine works safely without as many side effects as allergy shots – so if you're not sure how to balance your love of felines with your hatred of nasal congestion, you might get some good news on that front soon.
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