Thursday, April 07, 2011

Surviving cat allergies, tips to cope (and, of course save money)

I was extremely surprised to have the allergist tell me a few years ago that I was allergic to my cats... and the dog too.  Of course, he pretty much knew that telling me to find them other homes was not going to happen.  After watching the requisite boring video on dust mites, dander and allergenic bedding, I committed myself to allergy shots to hopefully regain some semblance of sanity in my life.  Sneezing all day just wasn't cutting it.  Here are my tips on how to survive cat allergies, some of which are money savers too.

1.  Filters.  One of the things that I do to keep the allergies at bay is to keep up with filter maintenance.  My filters are an odd size, hard to find, and worse: expensive.  If you can afford it, buy the HEPA ones, specifically for allergies.  Though my furnace guy looked at me strangely when I told him that I vacuum mine.  Yes, I vacuum instead of outright changing them.  This may not be optimal, but it is what gets me though.  The nearest place to buy my filters is 35 miles away at  Lowe's or Home Depot, so if the filters look dirty, I vacuum them until they start looking a bit worn out.

2.  Allergy Shots.  It was tough to commit to near constant needle jabs, but the alternative wasn't working for me.  I'm one of those weird people that react to allergy medicines that are typically prescribed.  Hence, my medicine of choice is now Nasonex, which goes up my nose instead of through my digestive tract.  Each time I would get shots, I incurred a copay for a specialist visit.  This is something we factored into our yearly planning for a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and in choosing an insurer for our health insurance needs.  The faster you build, the quicker you get to the maintenance dose.  This is something to consider since each extra shot = an extra copay.  So if you're considering allergy shots, be sure to ask up front what might be the best for you both health-wise and money-wise.

3. Bye-bye, kitty.  Well, not permanently.  Kicking those furry critters out of your bedroom is ideal and is especially helpful to getting you a good night's rest.  I used to have a cat that slept up by my head on my pillow.  This was not great for my allergy symptoms.  If you can't get them out of your room, even getting them off your bed is better than nothing.

4.  Allergy medicines.  Allergy meds are not always cheap and if you're visiting an allergist for allergies, suspect that they may place you on some kind of prescription drugs.  Usually, people are there because OTC meds just aren't working.  If your insurance company has the capability, print out a list of allergy medicines they do cover, along with which tier they are in.  I have found most doctors do have an idea of which medicines are really expensive, and they do try to avoid prescribing them for that reason.  But being able to present your doctor with a list of medicines and showing him/her which ones are cheaper for you may help you save big over the long haul.

5.  Speaking of allergy medicines...  Be sure you enroll in any allergy medicine's rewards program and get on their mailing list for coupons.  Nasonex periodically sends me $10 vouchers to offset the cost of their medicine for me.  Don't rush immediately to the pharmacy after leaving the doctor's office.  Take the time to go home and look for coupons on the allergy medicine's website first.  I just printed a $15 coupon for Nasonex.  Even if you don't come away with a prescription, definitely visit the brand's website and look for coupons.

6.  Get rid of your carpet.  This isn't necessarily a cost saving strategy.  However, since removing most of the carpet in my home, I have noticed a difference in my allergy symptoms.  If you can't get rid of your carpet, make an effort to vacuum more often to see if that helps.  Don't forget to vacuum furniture, drapes and any other fabric surfaces too.  If you move to hardwood floors or laminate, you probably will find yourself sweeping often since crumbs and dust accumulate and are more visible than on the catch-all carpet. 

7.  Here kitty, kitty!  This one is very cheap to do, but your cat may not appreciate your efforts.  Cats, unlike dogs, groom a lot.  This increases dander and that's not good for your allergies.  Though my cats don't like it, I do rinse them off in the tub.  I don't bathe them per se, but I do give them a good brushing and then rinse off the dander.  I recommend this method only after you have clipped their claws.

8.  Keep up with your allergy medicine.  It's human nature to forget to take medicine when you're feeling well, but missing a few doses of your allergy medicine can reduce its efficacy.  If I forget, I notice that once I get a bad allergy attack, the medicine doesn't work as well if I haven't been taking it frequently enough.  Pre-medicate when you know you are going to some place that has kicked up your allergies before.  For me, that means making sure I take my medicine if I know I'm going somewhere with a lot of carpet.  Oddly enough, my allergist has carpeted floors!  I also make sure I take it prior to receiving any allergy shots.

9.  Wash your paws.  Washing your hands can help you with your allergy symptoms because you are washing off the allergen, hopefully before you absentmindedly touch your eye or nose.  This happens to me a lot!  I sometimes pet my cats at night when they come in to beg for pets and then touch my face.  Sure enough, my eyes start to itch.  If you can't give up your critters, at least step up hand washing efforts to wash off the dander and oils.

10.  Finally, keep track of mileage.  Mileage associated with going to your allergist may be tax deductible and may even be reimburseable if you elected to have an FSA plan through your employer.  If your allergist is a fair distance away, this could add up to a significant amount of money over the course of a year's treatment.

I hope you enjoy these tips for surviving cat allergies!  Do you have any that I've missed?  I'm all about saving money, so please share if you have any other cost-cutting tips by leaving a comment below.
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