Having a pet cat as a child may protect against future allergies, but a new study has found that getting a pet cat as an adult nearly doubles the risk of developing an immune reaction to it.
The study, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that people who already had other allergies were at a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to a new feline in the house.
“Our data support that acquiring a cat in adulthood nearly doubles the risk of developing cat sensitization,” Mario Olivieri, from the University Hospital of Verona in Italy, told Rick Dewsbury of The Daily Mail Online. “Hence, cat avoidance should be considered in adults, especially in those sensitized to other allergens and reporting a history of allergic diseases.”
More than 6,000 adult Europeans took part in the study, with researchers surveying them twice over a nine year period and taking blood samples. None of the participants had antibodies to cats in their blood at the beginning of the study, meaning they were not sensitized to the pet´s dander.
About three percent of the study group who did not have a cat at either time of the survey became sensitized over the course of the study, compared to five percent of those who acquired a cat during the nine year period.
Four in ten of the newly sensitized people also said they had experienced allergy symptoms around animals, four times the rate seen in people without antibodies against cats. It also turned out that only people who let their cat into the bedroom became sensitized.
“If you are an adult with asthma and/or allergies, you should think twice about getting a cat and particularly, if you do so, letting it into your bedroom,” Dr. Andy Nish of the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Gainesville, Georgia, who wasn´t involved in the study, told Frederik Joelving of Reuters.
The team also found that people who had a pet cat in their child years had a much smaller risk of becoming sensitized to it than those who were new cat owners as adults.
“We thought that having a cat in early childhood may be protective against the development of cat allergy in childhood, but this study seems to indicate that that protection extends into adulthood,” Nish told Reuters Health.
For those who have a cat and have become allergic, Nish recommends finding a new home for the pet.
“Second best is to keep the cat outdoors always,” Nish added. “If it comes in even occasionally, its dander will remain in the house for months. If the cat needs to be indoors, at least keep it out of your bedroom, consider a HEPA filter for your bedroom and consider washing the cat at least once a week.”
And for those who cannot or will not avoid pet contact, Nish said there are medical treatment options available, including allergy shots and immunotherapy, to help sensitized persons cope with the allergies.
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