Sophie’s choice: Cats vs. allergies and asthma
I suffer from allergies and mild asthma related to cat dander, dust mites, exercise, and cold, dry air. Though these allergies manifest relatively mildly as sniffling, tightness in the chest and reduced lung capacity, they play an active role in my active, cardio-infused existence. And, yes, working and living with cats makes it worse. Question is … does it alter my behavior?
The answer is a resounding "no," with respect to my own healthcare-slash-lifestyle decisions. And yet I’m not always so sure that’s the right approach.
Not that I would ever refuse to work in clinical practice with cats. Not that my allergies would ever keep me from sharing a bed with them. Yet it does seem to me that I should be working harder to seek out therapeutic solutions for my ills instead of merely lamenting their existence.
Now that it’s becoming increasingly clear that my lungs’ reduced ability to take in oxygen is no longer related to my smoking (it’s been a long time since I quit), I’m thinking I should be working harder at getting my asthma under control. Which is why I’m headed to my GP this week to discuss some basics.
This entire line of thinking, by the way, was brought to you not only by my boyfriend’s competitiveness on our traditional Sunday runs, but also as the direct result of a new feline household member.
Remember Laz? The little feral kitty I’ve been working with over the past couple of weeks? He’s doing great. Problem is, he’s living outside my house during the day and indoors (albeit up the chimney) overnight. Which makes me worry.
Why? Because while I’ve always said I’d refuse to change any fundamental aspects of my animal-loving lifestyle to suit my allergies and asthma, I’ve realized that there are some conditions that do apply.
Which means that for the past ten years, I’ve lived without cats. As in, none.
I grew up with cats. My first cat ever, Marsha, gave birth to kittens the day I was born and tried everyone’s nerves with her insistence on relocating them to my crib. Raised under the power of that kind of family mythology, how could I not adore cats? My first solo pet was an Abby named Ofelia. Yet I’ve suffered a decade of catlessness, why?
Easy answer: Because it’s perfectly acceptable to suffer allergies and asthma on the basis of one’s own personal preferences. It’s altogether another to foist uncomfortable and unhealthy conditions onto others on the basis of those personal preferences. And given that my now twelve-year-old son suffers from a condition similar to my own, I’m finding it difficult to justify my own personal desires in the face of his discomfort.
This, despite my distrust of the human medical immunology community in my area (our many allergists and pulmonologists have proven themselves frustratingly fickle and highly driven towards diagnostics and therapeutics, with less regard for the severity of the affliction than I’d like to see).
They all say the same thing: HEPA filters; clean house and wash bedding weekly; non-allergy pillows and mattresses and covers for both; hyposensitizing vaccines (allergy shots); Singulair and other inhalants as needed; oh, and of course, zero cats!
Always no cats. Nevermind that dust mite allergies are the primary concern above all else …
Historically, I’ve conceded to my own child's health, which trumps my personal pet-keeping preferences. So that even if cats might not be so bad (and he tests low-positive to their dander), his still extremely high-positive results for dust mites mean that adding any allergenic stress to his daily intake might be a bad idea. Hence, no cats.
But it’s been a Sophie’s choice all the way. Every time a cute kitten or needy sickie needs a place to stay, I’ve been forced to demur. "So sorry, my son has asthma. Can’t do it."
Enter Laz and his temporary indoor trial. I brought him home because no one else wanted him. I kept him inside for a few short days just to make sure he knew he was wanted. Then I let him out. With no other cats in the yard he's happy out there (in my neighborhood, attrition via TNR has indeed done the trick, whatever anyone says). But at day's end, he still wants in.
Which makes me wonder … should I let him?
Dr. Patty Khuly