As cute as they might be, cats are a major source of allergies.

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Our love affair with the furry and feathered has produced a nation of pet owners, many of whom need tissues and pet allergy medicines to cope. Can pets be a part of an allergy sufferer's world? In this article, we will tell you the truth about pets and allergies and even give you helpful advice if you have to make the tough decision to get rid of your pet to save your health. Let's get started with some basic information about pet allergies.

Like all allergic reactions, pet allergies are the result of an immune system reaction to a harmless substance; in this case, the reaction is to the proteins in pets' dander (dead skin flakes) and possibly saliva and urine (it depends on the breed). Unlike other airborne allergens that come from unwanted creatures, pet allergens come from a cute and cuddly animal, a four-legged or feathered friend whom we adore and who adores us.

Pity pet allergy sufferers, for they endure endless bouts of misery because of their love of or the popularity of pets. After critter contact, many look like they've lost a boxing match: They have puffy faces; watery, swollen eyes; a runny nose; and red, irritated skin. Such reactions aren't always immediate, especially when sensitivity is minor or allergen levels are low. You might spend all day petting a sister's cat and only suffer a tiny itch.

But come 2 A.M., the immune system wakes up and soon you're wide awake rubbing your eyes, blowing your nose, and cursing the cat. Highly sensitive people usually don't have to wait 'til 2 A.M. (or later) for reactions to start. It seems they just look at the cat and experience skin irritations, nasal congestion, and breathing difficulties. For people with asthma, contact with a cat can trigger a severe asthma attack.

Ideally, all allergy sufferers would be able to keep their pets, but what happens when a family member's allergies make it necessary to get rid of a furry friend? Keep reading for advice on how to handle this touchy situation.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.