Visiting and Asthma: When Relatives Own a Cat

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Published: December 4, 2014
Photo: Getty

Q: It took a long time to get our 10-year-old daughter’s asthma under control with medication. One of her triggers is cat dander, and we’re planning to visit the in-laws who have a cat. Is it safe to stay with them? (My mother-in-law promises to board the cat, and vacuum like crazy.) Or would we be better to stay in a hotel?

Dr. Bassett: Given the likelihood of being exposed to pet allergens, managing an allergy to cat dander can be a real challenge.

In fact I experienced this during my college years, and found myself in a local ER on more than one occasion until I identified the culprit. As always, your best offense is a good defense.

Cat Dander Tricky to Reduce

Trying to reduce the amount of pet allergen in an indoor space is tricky. Achieving a pet-free bedroom is not as easy as it sounds: the cat allergens are invisible to the naked eye and may remain in the home for several months after a cat is no longer present. So removing the cat alone won’t be of much help, at least not immediately.

A HEPA air filter (standalone or retrofitted into a heating system) can reduce allergen levels. Wiping down walls and surfaces and using a HEPA vacuum cleaner can also help.

However, if cat dander is a significant trigger, it might be best to stay at a hotel and to visit.

Review Your Situation

Review the specifics of your allergy child’s cat dander allergy and her asthma control with your allergist. The allergist will help to determine what allergy medications are needed prior to exposure to allow for a fun yet healthy family visit.

Moving forward, you may also want to consider allergy shots for your daughter, which can provide long-term relief.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, allergist and asthma specialist, is the Medical Director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York (Allergyreliefnyc.com; Twitter @allergyreliefny). He is on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and is also the author of The New Food Allergy Solution: Supercharge Resistance, Slash Medication, Stop Suffering.

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