Q. My teenage daughter brought home (and we’ve adopted) a calico cat. I started getting a runny nose and a cough when near it, so I went to an allergist for testing. The results were positive. I don’t get it: our family had cats when I was a child. Can you develop an allergy to cats in your forties? Must we give him away?
Dr. Clifford Bassett: Yes, although allergies chiefly develop in children, adolescents and young adults, they can manifest during mid-adulthood.
However, the color and gender of your new cat could be to blame. I conducted a small, yet preliminary clinical study that identified a strong correlation of moderate to severe allergy symptoms with darker colored cats in a sensitive population of cat owners.
Additionally, I found that female cats produce less pet allergen than male cats.
Avoidance is the primary treatment, though this is not a popular choice for many pet lovers. Certainly portable HEPA air filtration and/or HEPA pleated filters in a home ventilation system (HVAC) can help to reduce the level of airborne pet allergens. Additionally, an allergist can review your options if you have direct exposure to a home pet. These include environmental modification, medications and of course allergy injections, which serve to increase your tolerance to the cat allergens in your home.
Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and asthma specialist, is the Medical Director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York (www.nyc-allergist.com). A fellow of the American College and Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, he is also on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine and Long Island College Hospital/SUNY.Note: This column is meant as general guidance and not as diagnosis or treatment of individual patient conditions. For such specific medical advice, please visit an allergist or pulmonologist.