Visiting and Asthma: When Relatives Own a Cat

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Published: December 4, 2014

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 this condition 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.

Trying to reduce the amount of pet allergen in an indoor space is tricky.

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 this with your allergist, and determine what allergy medications are needed prior to exposure to allow for a fun and healthy family visit. Moving forward, you may also want to consider allergy shots, which can provide long-term relief.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and asthma specialist, is the Medical Director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York (www.allergyreliefnyc.com; Twitter @allergyreliefny). He is also on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine and Cornell University Medical College in New York City.

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