Living with cat allergies

Woman suffering allergies

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People often underestimate how serious pet allergies can be. Sure you can get itchy eyes to the point you want to spoon them out or you can be sneezy and expect to get many dirty looks from others who assume you are spreading some nasty virus. 

But let my owner, Julie, tell you how you can live with your fluffy friend and about the time when she found out there can be a lot more to allergies than just your basic itchy eyes and sneezing symptoms. She thought her time was up! Dramatic I know…
Woman suffering allergies

Contents

How I discovered I was all of a sudden allergic to my cat
My symptoms
The allergist and medication
Are these antihistamines making me fat?
Is it because I gave up smoking?
The actions I took to help fight cat allergy
Relationship with my cat
My partner doesn’t understand my allergies
Where I am now

10 things you should do to make it easier to live with your pet

  1. Spring clean everywhere – yeah obviously! – walls, tops of wardrobes
  2. Switch bedding for easy to clean hypoallergenic stuff wash at 60 ℃ / 140 ℉
  3. Freeze stuffed toys regularly (for at least 24hrs)
  4. Wash the cat
  5. Get special stuff for the cat
  6. Buy a vacuum with a HEPA filter
  7. HEPA air filter (air purifier)
  8. Buy a steam cleaner
  9. Replace carpets and upholstery with plastic, wood, tiles etc anything that can’t collect cat dander or dust
  10. Keep pets out of the bedroom

Other things that you should and shouldn’t do

  1. You shouldn’t pick up your cat and snuggle your face into its belly (wash afterward).
  2. You should get rid of your cat – Hahaha yeah right!
  3. Swap your cat for a hypoallergenic breed – I know it helps, but come on, really?
  4. You shouldn’t let them snuggle under your jumper.
  5. You shouldn’t let them on your bed.
  6. If possible you shouldn’t clean the litter tray, wash or brush your feline friend.

How I discovered I was suddenly allergic to my cat

Hi, I’m Julie, part of Mishas’ family, I found out the hard way that there are more to allergies than itchy eyes. 

It was late last year, Misha (my cat) and I were at home alone as my partner was out of town. I had made use of the opportunity to work from home for a few days and would end it with a trip to my ancestral town in the highlands of Scotland.

I had not long turned 32 and I had just got over a nasty cold, however, the cough was still lingering. Over the next few days, my cough got progressively worse and I was finding it harder and harder to breathe.

After the first night of being up all night, struggling to breathe and gasping for air, I tried everything to alleviate the problem.

First off I tried a Ventolin inhaler, as previously, the doctor had prescribed this in the rare times I had a chest infection, but this had no effect. I tried Yoga, Vicks Vaporub, tiger balm, steam baths, sitting up perfectly straight and sitting outside for long periods of time.
Asthma inhaler

Although the above would slightly relieve the symptoms, sitting outside (for at least 3 hours) worked best. But every time I went back to bed it got worse. It would be a vicious circle of sitting outside, going to bed, gasping for a breath, get up, sit outside, go to bed, gasping for a breath and so on.
It might be worth mentioning the cat was following me about and sleeping beside me but I had grown up with cats and dogs and I had never had an allergy to any animal in my life, so allergies didn’t even enter my mind. 

On the second evening, I was still struggling to breathe but sheer sleep deprivation got the better of me and I fell asleep. At about 3.15am I woke up suddenly, gasping for breath. It was like I had stopped breathing completely in my sleep and my body (or brain) gave me a fright to wake me up.

The closest thing I could find on Google was sleep apnoea. I was freaked and scared, needless to say, I didn’t get back to sleep that night. I was sure this is what an asthma attack must be. I was alone which didn’t help but I was grateful that I could at least sit out on the patio with the mosquitos and watch several seasons of Homeland. As a side note a tiger mosquito bit me on the face that night – oh my, with that happening and the belief that I had some sort of serious lung disorder.
I concluded I was certainly dying I didn’t half feel sorry for myself!

Anyone with common sense is probably saying why didn’t you go to the doctor? Well, I’m always stupidly reluctant to go see a doctor for reasons unbeknown to myself. I’m the kind of person that has to get dragged and it’s actually concerning how serious things have to be before I will finally go. I would seriously have to have a leg hanging off at the very least type of thing.

Thankfully (or not as it would soon become apparent) by the third day of no sleep and sitting out on the patio each night trying to catch a breath, I caved and I eventually and over duly went to the emergency room.

Well done I hear you say with a slow clap.

My symptoms

When I arrived at A&E I was a mix of emotions; relieved at the possible help I would receive, but also distraught and sleep deprived. So much so, I cried telling the receptionist why I was there.

I…(gasp) can’t (gasp) breathe…

After the usual waiting, I was called into the nurses’ office and spent approximately 5 minutes telling the nurse my symptoms and I mention the possibility of allergies.

  1. Difficulty breathing
  2. Swollen itchy eyes
  3. A clogged feeling in my ears
  4. Stuffy nose

Also, I don’t know if it was related but if I cried or happened to have watery eyes, the tears felt incredibly acidic or salty. This is only exacerbated the swelling in my eyes.

Anyway, the nurse went away, a small amount of time passes and then the doctor arrives and immediately diagnoses me as having panic attacks. I can only assume he has decided this because I was there the year before (one time only) with stress due to a nasty work situation that was going on at the time.

I said to him I didn’t feel particularly stressed and I mentioned the possibility of allergies. He was abrupt and rude in his tone “it’s not allergies! You would know by now!” If it was dust you would be sneezing everywhere if it was your cat then you would know by now. It’s panic attacks! And he prescribed me a sedative to help me sleep.

worried woman

I was so angry with him but the conversation was in Spanish (not my first language) so I left abruptly and felt so frustrated. There was no way I was going to take a mild sedative not when I had clearly relied on my body to wake me up when I stopped breathing the night before. I dramatically (or not) decided that there was no way I could take this.

I spent the night worried and googling and set about self-diagnosing. Obviously, along with my friend Google, I concluded I had cancer or some of fatal lung disease. I had been a heavy smoker for several years and had just given up smoking two months prior. So lung issues and all the nasty diseases accompanied with smoking were very much at the top of my mind.

The next day I reluctantly got on the flight to Scotland, worried that I should really be visiting my own DR before I reached the point of not being able to breathe at all.

As I arrived in Scotland I went straight to the pharmacist and sought medication for pet allergies. As the days past I increasingly got better, the fact that I was away from my cat and in the highland air made me certain that I had suddenly became allergic.

When I returned to Spain after a few hours at home I could feel my ears, nose and throat closing, basically my airways. I booked myself to see an allergist and I heavily relied on antihistamines until my appointment.

The allergist and medication

When I got there the allergist wanted to do a skin test but said I would have to lay off the antihistamines for four days to a week beforehand. I simply could not – there was no way I could do this, no way was I going to essentially induce an asthma attack.

So we did a blood test and it turns out I have developed allergies in my older life and I am highly allergic to dust mites and the cat! The allergist said that because I was allergic to both dust mites and cat dander, my body couldn’t cope with handling them both. She also said that some people develop allergies later in life as your body is always changing.

So after much research and talking to the allergist we made a plan to get me breathing normally again.

The allergist prescribed the following (some of the brands are Spanish) so I’ve added a small description of each. Note that I am not a medical professional, I’m just telling you all about what worked for me so you can discuss it with your doctor if you want to.

Avamys: This was some sort of steroid (corticosteroid) nasal spray to reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Which is basically your runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, red, itchy, swollen and watery eyes.

Basically, it’s similar to Flonase which is another allergy relief nasal spray but not as strong. Your doctor has to prescribe Avamys, but Flonase can be bought from Amazon.

This worked because I had stupidly swollen eyes, as well as all the other symptoms and my eyes were back to normal in a couple of days.

DuoResp Spiromax: This was a very trendy but expensive inhaler. The allergist said this would help with the swelling in my airways and will act as a preventative medication against asthma induced by my allergies.

Ventolin Inhaler: This worked and I continue to use it and would feel scared if I didn’t have it by my side. I take this to relieve any wheezing or shortness of breath. It’s a must-have for me, I also think it has a psychological effect on me. If I have it close by I feel a little more secure in knowing that it’s there. Especially if I am going to stay over somewhere with pets.

Ebastel Forte: Ebastine which is basically an antihistamine I had to take one every 24 hrs.

These worked although I started to put on weight.

scale


Are these antihistamines making me fat?

The weight gain was so drastic that one day I put on my knee-high boots and then a few days later with the same boots, I almost couldn’t zip up around my calf. As I’d said I had just turned 32 so at first I thought it was my increase in age as this is what the older generation warn you about. Then as one would naturally assume, I was sure I was pregnant. But I wasn’t, that soon became apparent a few days later. I was pretty devastated, not because I want a baby but because it meant I was just becoming fat.

Although I enjoy sports, I’ve never had to really work for a good body shape so this was something alien to me. I was freaking out so something had to be done, so, I began to research.

What was I eating? My diet was fairly healthy, although a little on the alcoholic side. So I looked at any medication I was taking at the time. What was I taking? The only thing I was taking was Cystiphane (which is a food supplement which did wonders to my hair thickness and gave me fairly impressive nails). I did a quick search to see if there was any link to the supplement and weight gain but there was nothing.

Then I started to research Ebastel Forte (the antihistamine that the allergist prescribed) nope, nothing linking weight gain to Ebastel. But then I stumbled upon a piece of research linking antihistamines to obesity so that took me down that avenue. For me, although poorly researched and a bit of a snap judgment I found enough evidence linking antihistamines to obesity.
I’m not sure I found any research that would be conclusive evidence for the skeptic but it was enough for me to stop taking them. This was quite harrowing I kept on saying over and over in my head “fatness or breathing well, fatness or breathing well?”…
What would you choose?

Is it because I gave up smoking?

However, I don’t agree that my new allergies are the result of me getting older.
I’ve done a lot of research into the subject and I am convinced I developed allergies as a result of not smoking anymore. I think medical experts don’t shout about this because they don’t want to be seen to promote smoking. I know I have no professional knowledge to be making such statements. But I’m convinced that smoking and allergies have a connection. I have a theory although I am sure many of you will disagree.

In tobacco, there is an additive called Cocoa, which happens to be a bronchodilator. Bronchodilators relax the muscles in the lungs which widens the airways, making breathing easier. Why would tobacco companies add this? Well apart from adding flavor to tobacco, this would allow a smoker to intake more nicotine (the addictive substance in tobacco) and thus the smoker would become addicted or increase the amount they smoke.

Apart from the fact that there are tons of search queries on Google asking whether ‘smoking helps with allergies’ means that I am not alone in this way of thinking. So essentially smoking has been disguising my allergies ever since I met Misha 6 years ago. Whereby cat dander and dust mites have been working to close my airways, smoking has been keeping them open.

Anyway, please don’t think I am advocating smoking as a way to live with allergies and your pet. As we all know the risks of smoking causes more long-term damage leaving your respiratory system in a worsened state.

scary dust mite

The actions I took to help fight cat allergy?

Further to the medicine prescribed by the allergist, I also had to change things around the house. My problem was compounded by the fact that I’m allergic to the cat and dust mites because essentially dust mites live off cat dander (among human hair and skin etc) So the fact that I had a cat meant it was harder to control the dust mite levels in my house.

I wasn’t happy and the cost was mounting up, the medicine was well over $120 and then I had to spend a small fortune on making changes to my apartment. I had no job at the time but this was something you can’t really cut corners on. There was no way I wanted to have that shortness of breath again, which in retrospect I am sure was several asthma attacks over a three day period.

So here is what steps I took:

Considered getting rid of the cat

This took a nanosecond – no I would not get rid of my cat, my baby cute twinkle toes.

Banned the cat from the bedroom

Make sure your bedroom is pet free. This was difficult, Misha likes to sleep with us, on top of us and sometimes she crawls under the covers and snuggles onto my belly. To add to that she hates closed doors and spent most of the night pawing to get in.

Spring Cleaned everywhere – yeah obviously!

A damp cloth is best because you don’t want to stir up cat dander and dust mite feces (yes it’s not the mites I’m allergic to, but their feces). Take note of particularly dusty areas like behind and on top of wardrobes and under beds. I even cleaned the walls and behind the fridge. l recommend doing this at least 4 times a year.

Switched bedding

I had to buy a hypoallergenic mattress protector and swap my memory foam pillows and my duck down winter quilt for items that would be easier or at least fit in the washing machine.

Started a super keep it clean regime

A clean person myself, although I now had to up the ante on cleaning, particularly the cat litter tray and bedding. As opposed to cleaning the cat litter box every 4 days I had to reduce this to every two days. Bedding (including pillows) I used to clean every 1-2 weeks now it’s every 4 days. I also vacuum the mattress each time I change the bed.

To kill all dust mites and remove pet dander you have to wash items at 60 ℃ / 140 ℉ so I had to buy items that could handle being washed at that temperature. After a few weeks, I got bored with the constant cleaning and drying. Not to mention the cost implications of washing everything all the time at such a hot temperature. But then I discovered I could put the pillows in the freezer for 24 hrs as extreme cold, as well as heat, removes dust mites and dander.

Buy an air HEPA filter

This is a MUST have. I can’t stress this enough! It’s the one thing that I really notice helping. If I am feeling wheezy or if some reason the cat has got into the bedroom, I can put this on and use my inhaler and within minutes I feel better.

clean your carpet

After days of research here are the things to watch out for when buying an air filter:

Does it have a HEPA filter?

All other filters are useless against cat dander and dust mites, as they are so small they just go through the vacuum out the other side. Filters or Vacuums with a HEPA filter trap 99.97% of all airborne particles. Do your research here because a lot of well-known brands use “HEPA” as a marketing buzzword and so on. You’ll find product descriptions claiming 99% HEPA, HEPA grade, HEPA efficiency but you are looking for TRUE HEPA 99.97% and at least boasting a 3 stage filtration system.

Also when looking at the product check the quality of the filter. Real HEPA filters are made up of fiberglass fibers and should be sturdy. Also, 99.97% HEPA are usually more expensive, not that this is a basis for judgment but if its cheap then its likely not a real HEPA.

Some examples of good HEPA air purifiers in various price ranges. I´ve bought the cheapest one (Levoit) on the left and it does a great job for my bedroom. However, if you need to purify a larger space, e.g. your living room, you might want to do some comparison.

What is the energy consumption like? Will it result in a big electricity bill?

I don’t know much about this – but I know its something other people were concerned about.

Does it make a lot of noise?

It’s very likely that your air filter will be in the bedroom, some air filters can sound like a plane taking off in your bedroom. So check reviews and the specifications before purchasing. I can still fall asleep to anything less than 50db but it’s something to consider if you are a light sleeper.

Does it give off a lot of light?

Weird thing to put in I know, but I overlooked this when I bought my first air purifier. I love complete darkness when I sleep, even light emitting from a phone charger can drive me mad. Some filters come with lit up LCD screens and UV lights.

Is it powerful enough to filter the area I need it to?

Check the product description for the amount of square meters covered by the air purifier, you may want to buy two. Because I was strapped for cash I like to move mine into the living room by day and then to the bedroom at night.

I close all my windows and doors and put it on about an hour before bed. It obviously works better in a closed environment. Otherwise, the filter will be constantly filtering the air from the street.

Are there any expensive replacement parts?

You will have to replace the filter when required (most filters have an indicator when this needs to be done). There is no way around this so it’s worth checking the price of the replacement filters before you buy and also check for any indication showing the frequency that the filter will need replacing.

Below an example of the filters, I need for my LEVOIT Air Purifier
They only cost around $10 dollars a piece and one filter last for a couple of months.

How long can I leave it running?

If you suffer badly from allergies or asthma and stay at home you may want to leave it on all day. From some of the reviews, a few noticed a smell of burning plastic after a prolonged period of use.

What air purifier did I choose?

I first looked into the Dyson pure cool fan purifier as I adore anything Dyson.
But note that it doesn’t boast a True HEPA filter and claims to remove 99.95% of harmful particles but we are looking for 99.97%

So for a while, I considered the Germ Guardian air purifier because it had the most reviews and scored 4.2 out of 5 on Amazon. In the end, I didn’t buy it as after some online research I found that it emitted a 70 dB noise level which would drive my partner mad.

Having never used an air purifier before I wasn’t sure if I rated them so I wasn’t prepared to fork out over $100 bucks on my first one. I wanted to see if they worked, what are the features that are most important to me etc etc.

In the end, I bought the Levoit LV-H132 Air purifier True Hepa. This seemed perfect for my needs, it was small compact, cost-effective, looked cool, could handle the size of my bedroom and emitted 50 dB. Plus it also had a cool light, which I’m a sucker for.

Overall I like it enough – if It were an Amazon review I’d probably give it 3.5 out of 5. The reason I’m not rating it a 5 is that it’s a little noisy for my partners’ liking, he is a light sleeper so this is an issue for him. Also, the little control panel buttons at the top are backlit and each time you press a button it beeps. Which isn’t ideal if you are like me and like complete darkness or if you want to switch it on/off or increase/reduce the fan speed during the night.  

For my next purifier, I will definitely consider one emits a lower noise level. 30 dB was the lowest I could find, but with increased demands so did the cost.

Here is a list of the ones I’m considering:

Buy a vacuum with a True HEPA filter

At first, I tried to be cheap and I regretfully bought the Ovente ST2620R Bagless Canister Cyclonic Vacuum. It was great at first but it quickly lost suction and wasn’t as good at picking up dirt after the initial use.

So after a few months, I caved and bought the Dyson cyclone v8 absolute, it’s lightweight and cordless. I have a small apartment with limited storage so this was ideal for my needs. Expensive but I am a huge fan of Dyson products. I really LOVE this it can run for up to 60 minutes and it’s excellent for doing things other than floors, like the walls and the bedding.

Replace carpets and upholstery

Replace carpets and upholstery with plastic, wood, tiles etc anything that can’t collect cat dander or dust mites. I didn’t have to do much here as I have wooden floors and my house is fairly minimalist. If you do have upholstery and your are not prepared to part with it, vacuum regularly and if allowing, wash at the highest heat or stuff the item into your freezer.

Buy a steam cleaner

After a few weeks of living with my allergies, I got so fed up cleaning. I’m a fairly clean person anyway but the constant washing and drying, freezing anything I could became a chore.
So I started looking into steam cleaners as an alter
McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam Cleanernative to changing the bed every other day. I also wanted to explore this option for upholstery and carpets that I couldn’t put in the washing machine.

After much research, I really wanted the McCulloch MC1275 because as well a cat I have two big dogs (which incidentally and thankfully I’m not allergic to).
Anyway, this steam cleaner can also deal with outside areas; which would be great for the dogs’ kennels, our cars and the outside stairs.


Relationship with my cat  

Misha’s likes to be petted while she eats (known as affection eating).  I couldn’t even do that anymore. She would sit by the bowl waiting to be petted and I would have to just walk by her. She would meow for me to come and pick her up.

In the winter I used to sit with a fleece blanket (which is gone because of the dust mites) and Misha would sit on top or under it. But that couldn’t happen anymore. I would sit a certain way on the sofa and use my arms to create a kind of blockade, she would try and out maneuver or barge me with her head so she could try and get to my lap.

I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal but to all of a sudden not be able to pick up your cat, not let her sleep with you at night etc It’s horrible! You can hardly explain to a cat why you’re not picking her up when she is asking for a cuddle. Or that she can’t sleep in the room anymore.

I started to feel distant towards her and that’s when I decided to try and bathe her, I was pretty sure that it would end in disaster, but I’d never actually given Misha the opportunity to have a bath so it was worth a go right? I did my research watching some useful and very useful videos on YouTube.

 

Wrong. It was a disaster and I only traumatized my poor cat. I did everything I could think of to make the experience as best I could. Still, she spent the next three days hiding, had a weird gaze and would look right passed me. I on the other hand despite wearing a long sleeved top suffered minor injuries.

Then I was recommended Allerpet dander remover from a friend of mine.

It is amazing at helping with pet dander allergies. I still wash my hands after I pet her but I’ve found it’s helped. It took about just over a week before I noticed that I wasn’t having the same reaction when I petted the cat. About once a week I give Misha a brush and I apply it with a towel.

Relationship with my partner

This is a strange one. We have a healthy relationship and my partner was with me when we got the blood test results from the allergist. He sat there hearing that I was severly allergic and she (the allergist) alluded to the idea that we should get rid of the cat.

Well, it was more a case whereby I said  to her “so what do I do now I can’t get rid of dust mites so do I have to get rid of the cat?” It was a joke and I expected a giggle from her but instead, I got a raised eyebrow and a slight nod indicating that was indeed what I should do.

So at first, it was all good but we argue about household chores and cleaning at the best of times. So the fact that we had a spring clean ahead of us was daunting. It was things like I would walk into the room and he would be cleaning the top of the wardrobe with a dry cloth and the whole room would be covered in dust falling on the bed. But to be fair he did try, at first.

The usual argument we have now is about changing the litter tray and wafting. Yes wafting, that thing you do when you shake out a pillow or a quilt. He often does it when I am standing in front of him or lying down on the bed. And then when he aggressively turns in bed I just imagine all the dust mite feces and pet dander floating about. I get that it’s hard to adjust to these things I turn in bed with the ninja skills with the aim of stirring the minimum amount. Akin to a mother that doesn’t want to wake her toddler sleeping next to her.

Sometimes I walk into the room and find the cat on the bed as he is lying next to her. I’ll find dusty things dumped on the bed that I am trying hard to keep like a surgeon’s table. And when I go on holiday, on video calls I’ll often ask to see the cat and she will be on the bed! I moaned about it alot but now I’ve resigned to the fact that they are my allergies and I have to live with them.

Where I am now

So I am still convinced the antihistamines made me put on weight so I only take them when I feel really bad. But in general the things I couldn’t go without are:

Cleaning the bed and house regularly

The HEPA air purifier

The HEPA vacuum

Ventolin inhaler

Dander Remover

And now and again I use the Vick snortner thing.

I haven’t had an asthma attack or the difficulty I had at the beginning. Now and again I struggle to breathe, but I have become a little laxed in my methods. The cat is back in the room not on the bed, although I’ve had to chase her off a few times. I share the chore of emptying the litter trays and I brush her now and again and I seem to be coping.

Thanks for reading and sorry this article was so long, it was a long story. And the world of allergies is pretty daunting at first. At the very least I hope I can help someone with sharing my experience. Whether it be discovering they are allergic or learning new ways of dealing with their allergies.

Best of luck to you all!

X
Julie

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