Research suggests that cats may have a calming effect on our lives. But can these furry feline friends cause eczema?

Some evidence shows that cats may make you more prone to developing atopic dermatitis, or eczema. But the final verdict on eczema and cats can depend on many factors.

We’ll review the research, and look at what you can do to reduce your eczema symptoms.

The answer to the question of whether cats trigger eczema isn’t completely clear. Research has been found to support both sides of the argument.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the extensive research that’s been done on this topic:

  • Cat exposure can trigger symptoms if you’re born with the gene mutation for eczema. A 2008 study examined the risk of eczema development in 411 one-month-old babies whose mothers had asthma and who were exposed to cats during the first few months of their lives. The study found that kids with a genetic mutation in the Filaggrin (FLG) gene, which is responsible for the production of the Filaggrin protein, are more likely to develop eczema when they come in contact with allergens related to cats.
  • Being born into a household with cats may increase your risk of developing eczema. A 2011 study found that children who lived with cats during the first year of their lives were much more likely to develop eczema.
  • There may be no connection at all. A 2012 study looked at more than 22,000 children born throughout the 1990s who were exposed to cats during the first two years of their life. The authors found no connection between growing up with a pet and developing an allergic condition. A 2007 review of several long-term studies reached the same conclusion.

Exposure to cat allergens like dander or urine may trigger your symptoms if you have eczema.

If your body has developed an allergy to proteins in these substances, coming into contact with them causes your body to produce high levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.

These antibodies are meant to fight off allergens as if they’re harmful substances. This is especially true if these allergens touch your skin. Increases in IgE antibodies have been associated with triggering symptoms of eczema.

You don’t necessarily have to be allergic to cats for them to trigger eczema flare-ups. Raised levels of IgE antibodies associated with eczema make you more susceptible to flare-ups when you’re exposed to any environmental trigger.

No rigorous studies have been conducted to find out if cats (or other pets) alone can be responsible for causing eczema in children.

A 2011 article detailing the results of nine studies on this subject found that children who had cats (or dogs) from a very young age didn’t have as many IgE antibodies. These antibodies are the main culprit for allergy and eczema symptoms.

This suggests that early pet exposure decreased the chances that children would develop eczema by about 15 to 21 percent. But two other studies analyzed in the 2011 article found that children who had a genetic predisposition to eczema were more likely to develop the condition when exposed to pets during childhood.

Further evidence indicates that having a pet can help boost your immune system from a young age. A 2016 study of over 300 infants found that exposure to a pet greatly lowered the risk of developing allergic conditions by helping babies develop healthy gut bacteria that protected against allergic reactions.

A 2012 analysis also supports the relationship between early exposure to pets and development of eczema. However, this analysis found that dogs were more likely to be associated with lower chances of developing eczema than cats.

Can’t live without your cat? Here are some tips to help reduce your exposure to cat-related eczema triggers:

  • Keep areas in your home off-limits to cats, especially your bedroom.
  • Bathe your cats regularly with shampoo made for cats.
  • Reduce or replace home materials susceptible to dander buildup. This includes carpets, cloth curtains, and blinds.
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to keep your home free of dander and allergens that have settled around the house.
  • Use an air purifier with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to remove dander and other eczema triggers from the air.
  • Let your cats outside during the day. Make sure the weather’s decent and your pets are comfortable and safe before doing this. Consult your veterinarian about appropriate flea and heartworm preventative for cats before making this lifestyle change.
  • Adopt hypoallergenic cats that produce less dander or allergens.

Try the following treatments to combat severe allergy and eczema symptoms:

  • Apply over-the-counter (OTC) creams or ointments with corticosteroids. Try hydrocortisone to reduce itching and scaly skin.
  • Take OTC antihistamines to relieve symptoms. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are both widely available.
  • Use nasal sprays with corticosteroids to relieve allergic inflammation and symptoms.
  • Take OTC oral or nasal decongestantsto help you breathe better. Try oral phenylephrine (Sudafed) or nasal sprays (Neo-Synephrine).
  • Make a saline rinse from 1/8 teaspoon of salt and distilled water to spray into your nose and remove allergen buildups.
  • Use a humidifier to keep your nose and sinuses from getting irritated and making you more susceptible to triggers.
  • Talk to your doctor about allergy shots. These shots consist of regular injections of small amounts of your allergy and eczema triggers to build up your immunity to them.

You don’t have to choose between your cat and your health. Research shows that the connection between cats and eczema is based on many factors and is still being investigated. Plus, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your exposure to cat allergen triggers.

What’s key is that you keep your living environment clean and allergen-free. You may need to make some lifestyle adjustments to accommodate your cat and your eczema. If you can’t bear to live without your feline friend, these adjustments are worth making.