DrWhite2Q: “My daughter has asthma and is allergic to cats. Can we keep our family cat if we keep it out of the bedroom?”

Martha White, MD: The totally unemotional answer is the cat is likely triggering your daughter’s asthma and should be given away. Her health would probably improve and her asthma would almost certainly be easier to manage.

Having said that, I also recognize that pets are often regarded as members of the family, and removing them from the home is difficult for many people when faced with pet allergy.

For people who can’t part with their beloved pet, I strongly recommend a multi-pronged approach:

1) Keep the animal totally out of the bedroom and off the furniture.

2) Start allergy shots so that the child will eventually lose the allergy to the pet.

3) Get allergy encasings for the pillows and mattress, even if there’s no dust mite allergy, to protect the child from animal dander that might have made its way into the pillows and mattress.

4) Get a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter for the bedroom and possibly the family room; keep the bedroom door closed so the pet stays out and the filter can do its job.

5) Vacuum often with a HEPA-filter vacuum to remove pet dander that has settled on carpets and in house dust. You can’t get it all out, but every little bit helps!

6) Be prepared to need more medications to control her asthma while the allergy shots are building and starting to take effect.

I also encourage you to make sure she is taking her daily corticosteroid medication and treat any symptoms immediately before they become serious.

Martha White, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist at the Institute of Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton, Md., board emeritus with Allergy & Asthma Network’s Board of Directors, and a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

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