Contrary to popular belief, cat allergies in babies are not triggered by the cat's fur. They are caused in response to feline saliva and dander, but they can also occur when babies come in contact with cat urine or feces. To make sure that your baby has a cat allergy as opposed to another sensitivity, comprehensive allergy testing is often warranted. Symptoms of cat allergies in babies vary in severity, and can range from mild to life threatening.
Cat allergies in babies often produce rhinitis, or runny nose, persistent sneezing, itchy, red, water eyes, nasal congestion and coughing. They may also cause itching, skin rashes, wheezing, frequent colds or middle ear infections, post nasal drip and headache. Dark circles under the eyes known as "allergy shiners" are also common in babies with cat allergies. Although symptoms of cat allergies may occur anytime, they are more pronounced at night. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea sometimes occur as well, and are in response to irritating allergy-related mucus that drips down the throat into the gastrointestinal tract.
Antihistamines or oral decongestants are often prescribed to treat cat allergies in babies. Although over-the-counter medications often suffice to mitigate symptoms, your pediatrician may recommend prescription allergy medication for more moderate cases. Saline nasal sprays are safe and effective, however, steroid nasal sprays, or those containing anti-inflammatory agents may exacerbate symptoms over time. If your baby's reactions are severe, regular allergy shots may be recommended as well as inhalation treatments to help facilitate breathing. Asthmatic babies are especially susceptible to cat allergies and subsequent complications, and in these circumstances, re-homing your cat may be the only alternative, unless you efficiently allergy-proof your home, or keep your baby and cat separated.
Although finding another home for your cat may help reduce your baby's allergic reactions, other steps need to be taken. Cat dander and traces or urine and saliva can remain present in the home for up to two years after the cat leaves the home. If re-homing your cat is not an option. keep your cat and its litter box away from your baby, and circulate the air by keeping doors and windows open on nice days. If possible, remove all carpeting, as dander accumulates in the carpet fibers and under padding. Using a vacuum cleaner with a filter helps remove allergens, as does daily mopping of your hard-surfaced floors.
Pediatric cat allergies can trigger a serious asthma attack. If your baby experiences wheezing, shortness of breathing, choking, or swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, seek emergency medical attention. Your baby will need prompt treatment to dilate her bronchioles and clear her airway to normalize her breathing. Failure to seek emergency treatment for a severe asthma attack may result in respiratory or cardiac distress, or multiple organ failure.