Allergies are an overreaction of a person’s immune system to an allergen, an otherwise harmless protein that has no effect on a non-allergic person. Common sources of inhaled allergens are tree, grass and weed pollen, mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches, cats, dogs, birds, cows, horses, rabbits and rodents. The overreaction of the immune system that results from contact with one or more of these inhaled allergens may cause annoying symptoms like coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat. A person will often have allergies to more than one allergen.
We were sitting around the conference table the other day at our staff meeting, chatting about allergies, when a great topic came up. Cat allergy. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in allergies. I don’t have any of the fancy letters after my name, like my colleagues: DO, RPh, RN. I don’t need to worry about educating prescribers or patients on the ins and out of allergy. So, I ended up learning something by listening to this conversation that I thought was worth passing along.
We have had patients ask why they are being treated for their cat allergy even though they don’t own any cats. Here’s what I learned: cat dander can stick to things. It can stick to the clothes of a cat owner, and be transferred to the clothes or furniture of a cat-allergic person. It can stick to the backpack of a child and be brought to school to be shared with cat-allergic classmates. I think you’re getting the picture.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), “in a home that previously had cats, it may take up to 20 to 30 weeks before the cat allergen concentration is reduced to the levels found in animal-free homes.” Other researchers have said that cat dander could last in a home for several years after a cat has been removed.
In summary, non-cat-owner patients who are allergic to cats are often treated for their cat allergy due to the potential ‘exposure’ to cat dander. You never know when you might be exposed to cat dander…you may want to stay away from my house for the next 20 weeks-several years!
Winter Allergy Triggers
The reason is simple: Many of those warm weather irritants are around all year, like pet dander, mold, and mildew. And once you settle indoors for the chilly holiday season — the windows closed, the heater on — your exposure to these allergens spikes, says Asriani Chiu, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine (allergy/immunology), at the College of Wisconsin.
The best way to handle winter allergies is to understand what’s triggering them and why.
Now that indoor heating season is here, little steps can help lighten your allergic load.
- For dust mite sensitive patients:
- Encase your mattress, box springs and pillows with mite-proof covers
- Wash your bedding weekly in hot water
- Use a good HEPA vacuum cleaner, standard vacuums tend to stir dust and allergens
- If possible, remove wall-to-wall carpeting from bedrooms
- Use room air purifiers
- For mold sensitive patients:
- Wear HEPA filter mask when entering an area of suspected mold growth like a damp basement or crawlspace
- Keep humidity low using air conditioners or dehumidifiers
- Use room air purifiers
- Ventilate bathrooms, and clean regularly
- Don’t forget about your car’s AC system, have it checked out if it has a musty odor
- For pet sensitive patients:
- Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of your upholstery
- Wash your hands after contact
- Eliminate carpets wherever possible
- Use HEPA filters in your heater, air conditioner and vacuum cleaners
For more information, request a copy of our dust and mold information sheets by visiting www.allamericanallergy.com
Sources: All-American Allergy Alternatives, LLC; National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (Getty images)