It's good news for cat lovers: A new, more effective treatment for allergies may be on the way.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have discovered the receptor protein in human cells that triggers cat allergies. They anticipate that new drugs will be developed to bind the protein and prevent people from having an inflammatory response.
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"It has long been known that cat allergies are caused by people reacting to cat proteins secreted by the salivary or scent glands being transferred to the fur," Dr. Clare Bryant, lead researcher, told Yahoo! Shine. "Other allergen—for example house dust mite allergy protein—trigger a receptor protein in host [human] cells and we wondered if cat allergen would have similar effects. We did not expect this to happen because the cat allergy protein is very different to the house dust mite protein, so we were very surprised to find that it triggered inflammation through the same receptor."
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About 10 percent of people have pet allergies, and reactions to cats are twice as common as reactions to dogs. Cat allergies are especially pernicious because the proteins are small, light, and sticky. They float through the air and when they land on a surface—a piece of clothing for instance—they can be transferred to places that are cat-free. Symptoms include sneezing, watery eyes, stuffy nose, sore throat, hives, wheezing, and in severe cases, asthma.
Currently the only way to treat cat allergies is to reduce the symptoms with antihistamines or decongestants or endure weekly shots to boost the immune system—which can take as long as a year to kick in and may not even be effective.
Bryant can't predict exactly how long it will take for new drugs to reach on the market—that's up to the pharmaceutical companies—but says that "drugs that inhibit the receptor have already been tested in clinical trials for conditions such as sepsis." She added, "I would anticipate that an allergic person could, say, inhale a blocking drug before going to a house with cats and not get a reaction."
And allergic dog lovers have cause for hope, too. Bryant believes the findings could lead to improved treatment for canine allergies. The research will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Immunology.