Here’s how to tell whether your feline friend has anything to do with it.
Cats probably don’t cause eczema directly
Even if your cat is the diabolical type to knock glasses off of tables for giggles, they’re prob not trying to make you itchy and miserable. And the jury’s out on whether they could even if they wanted to. Researchers aren’t sure how — or if — cat companionship affects eczema.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) seems to be affected by a bunch of factors (including genetics, immunity, and the environment). There’s also some debate about whether eczema is primarily a problem with inflammation or dysfunction of your skin’s ability to create a barrier.
Cases of AD are on the rise. Some researchers think that environmental factors are triggering more flares in people who were already likely to develop AD anyway. Environmental factors that have been studied in relation to AD include:
- skin exposure to irritants
- childhood exposure to dirt and germs
- skin microbiome
Evidence about the relationship between cats and eczema is far from conclusive. Here’s what some studies have found.
- In a study of more than 800 children in Sweden, having a cat in the first year of life reduced the risk of developing cat allergy and seasonal allergies by age 13.
- One review found that there just wasn’t enough solid evidence to determine whether cats affected the development or remission of AD.
- According to an older study, living with cats wasn’t associated with a greater risk of developing allergies or eczema. However, other studies have shown that people living with cats were significantly more likely to have atopic dermatitis if they had some genetic predisposition.
So, essentially… science isn’t sure yet.
Cats may make eczema worse, though
Cat allergens (like saliva, dander, and urine) could make eczema worse. That’s because they cause an allergic antibody response that can trigger eczema symptoms. Two recent studies found a relationship between living with a cat and worse AD symptoms.
- In a study of more than 3,800 children aged 11 to 14 in Kuwait, 13.2 percent of participants lived with cats. Researchers found that in this group of adolescents, living with cats was associated with wheezing, allergy symptoms, and eczema diagnosis.
- A small study of adults who had AD since childhood found that symptoms were worse for peeps who had regular contact with a cat.
What about the children?
You might’ve heard that early exposure to allergens in childhood could make people less likely to develop allergies. What does that mean for kids who live with cats? It means they might be at a lower risk of developing eczema.
A study of more than 1,000 children in Sweden found that living with cats and dogs in their first year of life was linked with a lower risk of developing asthma, allergy, and eczema between the ages of 7 and 9.
How? The theory is that children who live with pets early in life are desensitized to pet allergens and pollen. Living with animals may also affect the microbes that children are exposed to, strengthening their immune systems.
Better living with cats and eczema
If you think your cat might be triggering your eczema symptoms, you don’t have to kick the kitty out. Here’s how to live a little more comfortably with your cat.
- Bathe your cat every now and then. You can wash away some of the saliva and dander that could be bringing out your symptoms. Just make sure to ask your vet about how often it’s safe to do this so you don’t end up trading your skin irritation for your cat’s.
- Banish cats from the bedroom). You spend a big chunk of your time in bed. While cats are great for cuddles, your skin will thank you for keeping an allergen-free bed.
- Use allergen covers for the mattress and pillows. If you can’t kick kitty out of bed, this is a great option. These fabrics can help prevent allergen buildup and make cleaning easier.
- Try an air filter. A HEPA filter can remove some of the dander from your living space.
- Reconsider carpet and fabric-covered furniture. This type of decor could hang on to dander. Launder and vacuum those items more often.
PSA: If you love cats, it might be tempting to believe that you can get a special breed that won’t trigger eczema flares. But totally hypoallergenic cats aren’t really a thing. Some breeds may have less fur to shed, but their saliva is still an allergen.
How to soothe eczema (and keep your cat)
We get it, you love your cat and will snuggle them even if you are raw and itchy. Here are some tips for soothing your eczema symptoms.
- Follow a daily bathing and moisturizing routine to keep your skin in top shape.
- Use medication, ointments, and moisturizers as your doctor recommends.
- Try a cold compress to reduce itching.
- Use wet wrap therapy. First, cover any irritated areas with wet bandages and then wrap them with dry towels or bandages.
- Try acupuncture.
- Pat instead of scratching. (Just like you’d pet a kitty, but on yourself.) This can keep you from damaging your skin and causing more harm than relief.
Pro tip: You might also want to consider allergy shots if living with cats is a long-term arrangement. One small study showed that this can be effective.
Part of living with eczema is learning what triggers your flare-ups. Cats probably aren’t a cause, but they could be one of your triggers. This is even more likely if you’re allergic to cat dander or saliva. Luckily, there are ways you can live happily with cats and soothe your skin.
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