my colleague is allergic to me because of my cats

A reader writes:

I’m a brand new manager in a public services environment. I have two cats, who are not particularly hairy, and I wash my clothes – and myself – in the usual customary manner for our Western culture. I also use a lint roller and vacuum my home thoroughly, but pet hair is pet hair, and it gets into things whether I like it or not. One of my staff members is very, very allergic to cats. In our 1:1 meetings, we have to sit outside my office in a common area to keep him from swelling up and experiencing full-on watery eyes. Fortunately, we can schedule these meetings at a time when no one else is within earshot of the space, but it isn’t fair to him or to me to be somewhere that can’t have some privacy from walk-throughs.

I am at a loss as to what to do next, short of evicting my pets. Others with cat allergies don’t seem to have this problem around me, and I don’t wear scents or use personal products with an overwhelming perfume; my first career was as a professional musician, and due to close proximity to others, perfumes and colognes were a big no-no. I didn’t have issues with cat-allergic colleagues in that world, either. For seven years, I sat shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who was seriously allergic to cats and nothing like this happened!

Short of asking my colleague to take medicine – which works to varying degrees and has horrible side effects – what more can I do to mitigate this? He’s a fantastic colleague, and I need to be able to meet with him to talk about his professional development, job performance, and interpersonal relationships with other staff: all of the things that you do when you are a manager.

Meet with him by phone! In-person meetings definitely have some advantages; you can see eye contact and body language and they generally just feel like they build the relationship more in ways that phone calls don’t necessarily do. But in this case, the downsides of meeting in-person trump those advantages. Switch to the phone. (You could also try video chat if you’re both into that, although it can have its own disadvantages.)

It may seem silly to talk by phone when you’re in the same building, but in this case it’s not; it’s a practical solution to the problem.

Also, ask him! He may have thoughts on other things you can try, and if you haven’t asked him directly if there’s anything he thinks might help, he might not be speaking up. (He should speak up if he has ideas, but some people won’t unless they’re directly asked, particularly when there’s a manager involved.)

And let us all take a moment to feel great sorrow for the cat-allergic among us.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 302 comments… read them below }

  1. Murphy*

    Do you have a large conference room you can meet in? Someplace with a closed door, but that you can sit further away. That might be weird too, but you could maybe sit a little further away and it wouldn’t set off his allergies?

    1. Bolte*

      For some reason I am picturing a comically large conference desk where both would sit at the ends – which would result in raised voices and people outside thinking someone was getting fired.

      1. Emi.*

        At either end of a long conference table is how you meet supervillains, I think, but it might work well for this situation as well.

      2. FD*

        My cartoon bubble is more one of those banquet halls in a period drama, with one at each end.

        “Thank you, Burns. And how are the accounts receivable coming on?”
        “Tolerably, though I fear I have my doubts about payment on the Haroldson matter.”

      3. Ted Mosby*

        Is anyone else thinking of Richy Rich? When he calls his parents from across the dining room table?

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Depending on the severity of the allergy this may not work. Phone or video conferencing is the only practical solution in this situation. I am massively allergic to tobacco and can’t go within several metres of a smoker even an hour afterwards. Phones and chat apps become crucial tools for us allergy sufferers. Even opposite ends of the meeting room was too close.

      1. DeskBird*

        Wow – that’s got to be so hard. You must have stories. I’m sure people don’t believe you and give you hell. Has life gotten better in the last chunk of years when smoking in restaurants and bars has become forbidden? I have *reveled* in all the new laws and I only hate the smell of smoke.

        1. designbot*

          My mom is the same way, and moving from AZ to CA (which had much stricter laws than the rest of the country back then) around 20 years ago was like magic. Suddenly she could go out to restaurants. She wasn’t sick all the time. She still had issues, but no longer having ‘smoking sections’ and not having ashtrays at the front door of every building was amazing.

        2. Koko*

          I have a similar reaction to smokers. But (fortunately? unfortunately?) I’ve never had any doubt me when I raise the issue in the moment because it’s very obvious what has happened to me. My eyes are visibly puffy and reddened and my voice sounds congested and I’m sniffling and rubbing furiously at my nose within a 5 minutes of sitting down next to someone who just came in from a smoke break.

          My bff (who lives out of town but visits me a lot) used to smoke and she always made a point to bring e-cigs when she stayed with me because she knew I wouldn’t be able to be around her after a cigarette.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        I wonder if the allergic coworker is reacting to cat dander on OP’s clothing, or to built-up accumulation of dander in OP’s office. It’s very possible a conference room wont’ work for exactly the reason you mention, but it’s also possible if, say, OP has had their office for ten years,there’s just a large accumulation of allergens from bring in a small amount every day, and it would work. It’s worth asking the allergic employee if that’s an experiment he’s willing to try.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, I wondered a conference room would work better because at least it wouldn’t have OP’s coat and laptop bag and desk chair and spare cardigan, etc etc that have been to OP’s house and picked up the dander. OP, have you tried a conference room (or other space that isn’t your own office)? Also, besides the cat dander, the person could also be allergic to plants or flowers if you have any in your office, or hand lotion you apply at your desk, or so on, that could also be contributing to the reaction.

          Good luck figuring something out OP, and I’m glad you are sensitive to this and not just blowing it off.

        2. k*

          I was wondering that as well. I’ve been at my current job for less than 2 years and I guarantee there is some evidence of my dogs lingering in the office. I can literally see dog hair in my keyboard and office chair at times (I swear no amount of lint roller will stop pet hair from traveling with you).

          1. Anja*

            We have white tables/counters in our lunch room at work. Every day at the end of lunch I pack up my stuff, wipe up if I got any food on the table, and brush off all the black dog hairs that are oh-so-obvious against the white.

          2. Anja*

            At my work we have white counters and tables in our lunch room. Every day after lunch I pack up my stuff, wipe the table for any spills, and brush off the black dog hairs that are oh-so-obvious against the white.

        3. textbookaquarian*

          Same thought here. My sister is allergic to cat saliva which has an enzyme in it that other animals do not. Of course they lick their coats as part of grooming which proceeds to get on furniture, carpets, clothing, etc. She has the same reaction as the OP’s employee to being in an enclosed space. So the cat hair may not be the only trigger persay. I think Allison’s recommendation is spot on then.

  2. MuseumChick*

    I’m allergic to cats but how severally I react can be totally dependent on the particular cat. Some I hardly react to, others my eyes swell, my chest gets tight etc. I don’t know about your employee but for me it’s the dander, not the hair that I’m allergic to.

    I agree with Alison’s advice, meet with him by phone, or eve Skype if need.

    1. Achoo!!*

      Me too. I had asthma as a kid and allergy tests revealed that I was allergic to dog and cat dander. Some dogs and cats bother me more than others. No rhyme or reason. My mom has a yellow lab and tabby cat and they both drive me nuts.

      I agree that meeting by phone or Skype would be best.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Yeah it’s weird. As you say there seems to be “no rhyme or reason” to which cats I react to. Nor does it matter how much the person with cats vacuums, uses lint rollers, etc. My reaction will still be the same.

        1. many bells down*

          My husband is mildly allergic to our own dog, but our friends have a dog that can’t even sniff his hand without welts appearing. They’re different breeds but both short-coated.

          1. TootsNYC*

            My son’s friend came over the other evening and was sniffling, coughing, etc., bcs he’s allergic to cats. I apologized and offered Benadryl, and he said, “No, I get used to it.”

            About two hours later, I said, “Jared! You’re not sniffling.” He said, “yeah, I got used to it.” I thought he’d meant that he became resigned to the sniffling, but he literally meant that he got used to our cat and stopped having a reaction. Apparently this is common for him–if he spends enough time around the cat, the allergic reaction fades.

            1. BF50*

              Fascinating. I’ve know people who got used to certain animals, but it took weeks or months, not hours. My allergist was fairly convinced I could own a dog because i would build a tolerance, but I’ve never attempted it because if it didn’t work, it seems horribly unfair to the dog.

              1. Letters*

                Oh cripes, yes, please don’t do this! Everything I’ve ever read or experienced suggests that is NOT possible. Thank you for not trying this and for considering how unfair it would be to the animal — as well as whatever rescue/organization you go them from!

                1. Annabelle Lee*

                  Actually it is possible my husband and several of our friends have experienced this: you do get accustomed to the animal.

                2. justsomeone*

                  It is possible. It happened with my husband and best friend and her husband. All three are allergic to cats. I have two cats. My husband’s allergies pretty much evaporated after a few days. Same with those friends when they were our roommates. After a few days their systems adjusted. Now that we no longer live together they have to pop allergy pills to visit, but it wasn’t a problem when they shared space with the cats at home.

                  @BF50, you might try a foster situation. That way the dog is either intended to be temporary or you foster fail and keep it.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  This is actually a variation on how allergy shots work. Prolonged low-level exposure can help a person develop a tolerance to environmental allergies (but not food allergies). Of course, whether or not this is a reasonable approach depends heavily on the severity of the person’s allergic reaction, but the general assertion is medically accurate.

                4. BananaPants*

                  It is possible! My husband is allergic to cats, which he didn’t know until we adopted a cat! His family never had pets and he didn’t spend time at a household with cats, and I was *not* giving up my newly-adopted cat (Mr. BP and I weren’t living together at the time). Within a month of weekends spent at my place, he no longer needed to take allergy meds. He was totally fine around our cat for the rest of the cat’s life, but still reacts when we’re around unfamiliar cats.

                  His reaction is primarily watery eyes and responds well to OTC allergy meds, so it’s much more manageable than if the allergy triggered asthma or something.

                5. KellyK*

                  I think it does happen, but it’s highly variable and unpredictable. I react a lot less to my pets than to other people’s pets. I also have one cat who seems to be hyperallergenic. I react strongly to her, and so does everyone else.

                  But it’s *way* too much of a crap-shoot to adopt a dog and just hope it works out, and thank you, BF50 for not doing that to a dog.

                  For anybody who has allergies, seriously wants a dog, and has reason to believe (from personal experience or doctor’s recommendations), that the reaction will get less severe, I do think it would be reasonable to talk to a rescue and be up front about your issues. Especially if you’re willing to live with a low-level of allergies or use allergy shots to keep it manageable.

                  My preferred plan, as someone who volunteers with a rescue, would be to have you meet a few dogs, preferably one on one rather than at a big event at a pet store. Then, if you find a dog you like who doesn’t cause your immune system to go crazy, you could try fostering that dog short-term. Ideally, the person currently fostering the dog would keep a “space” open for them & wouldn’t take on another foster until you’d had six months or so to see if your allergies came down to a manageable level.

                  I mean, don’t do this if your allergies are life-threatening, obviously, but if you love dogs and also love not being a sniffly mess, there may be ways to have both.

              2. Anon for this*

                We have had the opposite situation. Our kids who never had any issues with our dogs while they lived full time I the house, now come home from college and have reactions.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Sometimes allergies change with growth and hormonal changes (e.g., puberty through 24, during/after pregnancy, and during/after menopause).

                  It’s also possible that he was low-level allergic but acclimated to the family dog. Living elsewhere could have reset his tolerance.

                2. miss_chevious*

                  That was my experience. My reaction went away after a day or two of being back home, but I kept an inhaler for those days just in case.

                3. animaniactoo*

                  My dad turned 50 (or thereabouts) and promptly started reacting to about half the things I’m allergic to. For a very long time I was the only person in my family with a whole mess of allergies and we had no idea where they came from.

                4. JessaB*

                  OH the worst thing for me was moving to Florida from NY. I had taken years and years of allergy shots, and had to start again because OMG Florida has different grass. Grass I tell you, honking like a Goose and trying to see through goopy eyes. Any new locale can do that. Also if you move back you’re no longer sensitised to what was there when you left.

              3. turquoisecow*

                I’m allergic to cats, and I own two (previously 3, actually). My sister is also allergic and has a cat. Growing up, we had dogs, and she’s also allergic to dogs. My sisters allergists and mine have all said that we could tolerate their presence as long as we didn’t have them in the bedroom. I’m one of the few cat owners who doesn’t complain about cats on the bed, because they don’t go in there. The allergists all said that breathing in hair or dander while sleeping would be very bad. Also, for what it’s worth, my sister seems to be less allergic to her long haired cats than she has been to short haired cats. (All my cats have been short-haired, so I don’t know if this is a general statement or specific to her.)

                Also, finding the right combination of medicine (or shots) works wonders. I was reading facebook posts from only a year or two ago, and they’re all about how horribly sneezy I was due to rising pollen counts. Switching medication has made a HUGE difference.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  I was allergic to cats as a kid and have mostly grown out of it, at least for our own cats. I’ll get a bit sniffly around other cats, sometimes. My eye doctor says I have bumps on my eyelids that are related to allergies, but since I often sleep with my face burrowed in cat fur, and she keeps me warm, it is worth it.

                2. tigerStripes*

                  I think there is a breed of long hair cat that usually doesn’t activate allergies, or at least not as much.

            2. miss_chevious*

              This is me, too, depending on the cat. In fact, I didn’t even know I was allergic to cats until I moved away from home for college. I suspect that it might be that I adapted while I was at home and lost my tolerance when I moved, but that due to my early exposure as a kid it can come back quickly for most cats. I have met one or two cats where the reaction is so severe and immediate that no tolerance could be built up, but they’re rare.

            3. (another) b*

              Yup, both of my brothers are allergic to cats but they’re fine with my mom’s cats. They got used to them. Doesn’t work for everyone though.

      2. VermiciousKnit*

        There’s a particular protein in cat saliva that’s been identified as the most common cause of people’s allergies. Some breeds produce this protein less than others, and of course individual cats can really vary in how much they produce. I have one very-long-haired fluffy cat that almost no one is allergic to because he’s a less-allergenic breed, but my shorter-haired cat is an allergy bomb. People usually expect it to be the other way around.

        1. textbookaquarian*

          My sister and I dropped a stray cat off at the animal shelter this week. When questioned why we couldn’t give it a home, Sis explained that she’s allergic to their saliva. The attendant had never heard of that before and appreciated the additional knowledge. LOL

    2. what*

      Same! Some cats I can be around for hours at a time with only the occasional sneeze or itchy eye. Other cats I can’t be in the same room with for more than 5 minutes without my throat closing up.

      I still want to hug all the cats though :(

    3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      This. My dad’s cat seems to be kind of non-allergenic (three friends with cat allergies, one pretty severe, have no reaction to that cat) while the cat I had who passed away must have had some kind of nuclear dander because a friend of ours who had never HAD cat allergies before (though she had other allergies) had a reaction to sitting in a chair that my cat usually sat on. Sometimes it can be related to the food the cat eats.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I beg you to find out what breed of cat that is. I am severely allergic and have never found a cat I am not allergic to – even the theoretically hypoallergenic cats – and I would love to be able to have a cat.

        1. Sarah*

          You can get lucky with cats from the shelter, actually! My boyfriend (who is usually fairly allergic to cats) and I adopted a short-haired cat from a shelter and after a week of very minor sneezes/itchy eyes is now totally immune to the effects of her dander. It’s shedding season and not even one sneeze has escaped his mouth. And it’s not a case of him “getting over” the allergies either, as he still has reactions from my parents’ cats. I think she may be part Rex or Oriental, both of which are known to be low-allergen.

          If you’re more interested in a purebred/designer cat, you should try a Russian Blue if you haven’t yet. I know quite a few cat-allergic people who have had success with Russian Blues.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Yes, no luck there sadly. I need not low allergen but pretty much no allergen. I’m allergic to both the hair and the dander, which is even more limiting.

            1. Letters*

              I’m afraid you can’t rely on breeds! Each animal is completely different. I’m actually allergic to cats (as well as a HOST of other things, sigh), and out of our six I can give you a sliding scale of who gives me the most problems and who gives me the least. But there is no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic animal.

              I read somewhere that males can be slightly better than females, but it’s the complete opposite in my house — the two that I have the least problems with are our ladies. I’ve also read that longer hair is (oddly) better, because it traps the dander. Again, NOPE for me; the two cats I have the easiest time with are the ones with flat, sleek/shiny coats. The longer, coarser coats present way more difficulty for me.

              So — it’s all up to the individual. :( If your allergy is pretty severe, there might not BE a cat that you wouldn’t react to. I’m personally fortunate in that I’m able to take allergy medication year-round, but there’s a whole host of other things I do to moderate the allergy if you ever wanted any tips.

              1. animaniactoo*

                I suspect this is where I’m stuck, but the post above said one of their friends was severely allergic and didn’t react, so I was hoping they’d found a magic bullet or something. Cuz a woman can dream… ;)

                1. hbc*

                  If you’re willing to take the hit, my husband has “tested” each one of our cats by literally rubbing his eyes on them before we officially adopted them. Obviously it’s not a good first step, but if you have a lead on a potentially low-trigger breed or particular cat, you could start with a quick pet and move towards increased contact if they’re not triggering anything.

          2. Janey*

            Oh, Russian Blue all the way! I once fostered two (not Blues) kittens from the pound and had to use my emergency inhaler six times in four days. I was heartbroken to take them back. A year later I found two Russian Blues on a rescue site and they agreed to let me try them. Almost six months now and not a single symptom. It’s like a miracle!

        2. Papyrus*

          I have a nebelung cat (at least, that’s what she looks like, she was a stray so I’m not 100% sure) and my sister who is so terribly allergic to almost all animals has had no reaction to this one.

        3. Emily*

          We found a stray that looks very much like a Turkish Van–same long coat, markings, behavior. We have no idea if he’s fully that breed, but they’re supposedly hypoallergenic, and I didn’t even know I had an allergy until we got a second shorthaired stray.

        4. The Expendable Redshirt*

          Have you tried meeting Bengal cats? Reportedly, they have a different dander on account of their asian leopard cat genetics. Some severely allergic people can have Bengal cats on account of this.

          I don’t have any new suggestions for the OP though. Meetings by phone is a good idea, as is trying to talk in a larger, different room.

    4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      Yep, it’s definitely cat-specific too. My partner has mildish allergies to cats and we thought we could make it work with my two cats, since only one of them made her react really strongly. We tried it as long as we could, but once we moved from a house where the cats were indoor/outdoor to an apartment where they couldn’t go outside (which also drove the cats crazy), it wasn’t possible to keep my partner healthy and breathing while living with my cats. Don’t worry, the cats are happily living with my mom, where they spend most of their time on her gigantic screened in porch, lazing about.

    5. phedre*

      Same with me! My cat doesn’t bother me at all, while my friend’s cat makes my eyes itch and get watery, and I start sneezing (and this is with allergy meds).

      One thing that did help years ago was allergy shots – but that’s a big commitment.

    6. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      Sometimes folks who are allergic to cats are more specifically allergic to a protein in their saliva (so it gets on the fur and dander when the cat cleans itself). That could help explain how individualized it is to various cats as well.

    7. blackcat*

      I am significantly allergic to my own cat (I take drugs; I am also allergic to many things, and life is better on daily allergy medication).

      One of my best friends has claimed that mine is the only cat in the world that she seems not to be allergic to.

      I am baffled. She is a biologist and is truly fascinated. She once half-jokingly asked to take some of his dander for further investigations.

    8. Nic*

      For some reason intelligent cats don’t bother me but the ones who were too dumb to come in out of the rain make my eyes red and swollen and I can’t breathe after just a few minutes. It makes absolutely no sense to me why the intelligence of the cat should matter, but I had several examples.

  3. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    Does the employee have a private space he can use though? If you generally have an open office-plan, I’d make sure to let him know he can book a conference room to take the meeting, or something. It should be private on both ends.

    1. hermit crab*

      This is really important! My manager works at another location about 500 miles away, so all our check-ins are by phone, and I always go into a conference room by myself to take the calls.

  4. an anon is an anon*

    My mum is like this. She won’t invite anyone over to the house who has cats because even a bit of pet hair or scent of cats makes her swell up. I get like this to varying degrees – for me it depends on the type of cat, but for my mum it’s all cats. I think it’s a combination of the hair, dander, and all the other factors. I don’t have this issue with dogs, just cats (which surprisingly, people don’t believe or get hostile about).

    As someone in this situation, I’d be wary of asking your colleague to take medicine. Imo, it’s not really your place even as his manager and he’s probably tried it if he’s that allergic. Taking those medicines every single day is tough, especially if they have side effects. For me, they make my head foggy and I feel drained, and I wouldn’t want to feel like that all day at work for the rest of my time at a company. I’d be looking for a new job asap if that was the case.

    I think the Skype meetings are a great idea, provided he can find a conference room to take them in. If there are times when you desperately need to be face-to-face, see if he has any ideas on how to deal with the issue. I know I don’t mind taking an allergy med on occasion if I really need to, but I’d be wary to take one every day.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      I can’t believe people get hostile about that! I mean, I love my cats and tolerate my dogs (they came with my husband), but a quick bit of googling confirms that cat allergies are much more common. And beside, someone else’s allergies are such a silly thing to get upset about! I mean, if they’re just looking for an excuse to avoid you, maybe you should let them.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I think this is an important line of discussion especially in the work place. Allergies in general are difficult for people with out allergies to fully “get” a lot of the time. Like when people refuse to believe that certain food allergies can be life threatening.

        I try to not take medication unless I have to. I would be pretty annoyed if a cat-owner asked that I take medication in this kind of situation.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Just to be clear, my last sentence was a joke – I’ve never seen any point in disbelieving people about allergies. Or, if I do disbelieve them for some reason, I keep it to myself. I’m allergic to capsacin myself, which many people have never heard of or think is just me being overly sensitive.

          1. MuseumChick*

            Oh I know you were joking! Lol, I just think its a really good discussion to have. I read a story a long time ago (the author wanted to remain anonymous for reasons that will become clear) where the author worked at a restaurant. A woman would come in, order, and make a big deal that none of her food could come anywhere near tomatoes. The people at the restaurant would make fun of her privately because none of them had ever heard of someone being allergic to tomatoes.

            One day one of the cooks put some tomato juice in one of the woman’s food items. They watched her eat it having a good laugh…until she stopped breathing and an ambulance had to be called. From that day forward every allergy request at that restaurant was taken VERY seriously.

            As others have pointed out often people with pets will get (or at least appear) offend when someone with allergies has a reaction. From the person with allergies perspective I kind of want to say “Look I get it! I don’t need to hear you vacuum three times a day or the method you use to wash your clothes. I’m still going to have an allergic relation to animal dander though it might be less sever because you do those thing. I don’t hate animals, I don’t hate your pet, I don’t think you you are an unclean person. I just have allergies!”

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              Ug, that’s awful. I briefly worked at a coffee shop where a couple of the a-hole employees always whined about people who asked for non-dairy substitutes and joked about sneaking milk into their drinks. I don’t think they ever did, but if I was severely allergic to dairy, I would not shop at coffee shops unless I really trusted them or could watch them make the drink.

              1. Annie Moose*

                Even if people don’t do it on purpose, they also can just plain forget, because it’s not something that affects them on a daily basis–my sister’s just lactose intolerant, not allergic, but she’s militant about taking her Lactaid when eating or drinking anything that there’s a chance there could be dairy in. She’s just been burned way too many times by people insisting there’s no dairy in something and turning out to have been mistaken. (“I didn’t put any milk or cheese in your eggs!” “weird, I still got sick” “oh, I fried them in butter, do you think that was it?” “…YEP THAT WAS IT”)

                1. Natalie*

                  For what it’s worth, it’s incredibly unusual to react to the lactose in butter because the level is so low.

                2. GreyjoyGardens*

                  There’s also the fact that an ingredient might be “stealth” – for instance, I read an article about a woman who was allergic to lavender – which was a big problem as linalool, which is derived from lavender, is in so many cosmetic and skin care products. I never would have known that linalool = lavender before reading that article.

                  Foods can have stealth dairy or other ingredients under an unrecognizable name and you wouldn’t know it unless you are a savvy label reader, and most non-allergic people are not. This is one reason why I give out glow toys on Halloween and not candy – there are a lot of kids with allergies out there and I don’t know what’s safe or not. I know it’s the parents’ responsibility, but I do want Halloween stuff that all kids can enjoy…

                3. Anna*

                  My sister is one of those rare people who can’t even tolerate the lactose in butter. She is sad and I am sad for her.

                4. Anna*

                  Butter has almost no lactose, so while I’d always ask if I knew about the intolerance, your sister might consider whether there are other issues if butter is routinely making her very ill.

                5. JustaTech*

                  I’m always amazed at how many people don’t know what’s in food. I had a coworker who’s baby son had soy, egg and dairy allergies, so she had to avoid those foods while she was breastfeeding. Soy was easy, because she’s allergic to that, and eggs she could usually guess, but dairy was a nightmare. Sour cream and onion potato chips? Baby has a rash. Fresh pasta (made with eggs)? Baby has a rash.
                  My coworker didn’t grow up eating a standard American diet, so it was extra challenging for her.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’ve had this happen. Someone purposefully lied to me about whether there was dairy in my drink, and after a few sips, I could tell it was milk. About 30 minutes later, I was sitting in the ER with a nebulizer. Some people are a unique brand of awful.

                1. anonintheuk*

                  I have a nut …intolerance, maybe? If I eat nuts, they reappear one way or the other at quite some speed.
                  Some friends of my parents lied to me about what was in a dessert, when I was about 12. I think they thought I was being dramatic.
                  It was a shame that a) they had moved house and I did not know where the bathroom was b) about their new carpets.

            2. copy run start*

              That is heinous. A very close friend of mine is allergic to tomatoes. She has to carry an epipen. This is one case where I hope the woman sued.

        2. Kyrielle*

          And I take medication every day just to keep my allergies to mostly background noise, and can’t really escalate – given my reactions to the other options – unless it involves prednisone. (Totally did that when I was visiting my parents frequently as my mother was dying of cancer – and my allergies were worse then, I’ve done allergy shots since and it helped reduce them to where a daily antihistamine does largely work – but, you know, special circumstances. Prednisone’s warning labels are unnerving.)

          1. animaniactoo*

            For good reason on the Prednisone. I have a lovely uncureable ulcer as a side effect of too many times in too short a time. It was given to me wrong then and they’ve learned even more in the 25 years since. So yes, do be careful about escalating to that.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yikes. You have my sympathy. I am lucky in that this was a point treatment at low dose the day of the visit, and my doctor and I went over the risks (and I was still limited in total doses per month, for safety) – but it was basically that or not visit my dying mother (we used to get together outside of their house – say at a lovely cafe!). It was worth the risk to me. It’s easier to say that now, though, knowing I did get lucky and avoid the side effects.

              I wouldn’t do it for a job – that’s too much of a medical risk for something that can be solved in other ways, especially given the risk goes up significantly if you’re taking it regularly over a long period of time.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Agreed! Like, I love my cat, and it makes me sad when my friends can’t hang out at my place because they’re allergic to her, but it’s not like it’s their fault or something they’re doing to spite me! Holy heck, that’s so messed up.

        1. seejay*

          Yeah, I’m totally ok with people not wanting to come over because they have allergies (and I have three cats in a relatively small apartment and I’m not exactly on top of the vacuuming).

          What I’m *not* ok with is people who come over and know I have pets, then act like jerks to my cats, from teasing them to suggesting I lock them in the bathroom to get them out of the way, or complaining about cat fur getting on their clothes. These are people that know I have cats… don’t come over if you don’t want to deal with them, I won’t be insulted. I will be insulted and annoyed if you come over and expect me to relegate them to the bathroom because you’re bothered by them. It’s their house, not yours. You don’t have to pet them or let them sit on you and I’ll keep them out of your face, but deal with the fact that you’re in their living space if you come over.

          That’s pretty much the only time I’ll get annoyed with people about my pets. I’m pretty accommodating about allergies, that’s out of someone’s control (but seriously, don’t come in my house if you’re allergic, that’s bad juju. I have two monstrous fluffs.)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            People who come over to your home knowing you have pets, and then who complain, are being insufferably rude.

            1. seejay*

              One person wanted me to lock all three in the bathroom because he found them annoying. What. No. Under no circumstances will I do that. Then he got *pissed* because they sat on his jacket. Which he… laid down on the cat tree. I seriously couldn’t stop laughing at that one. Dude, every piece of furniture in the house belongs to the cats for the most part, but the cat tree?? That’s *GUARANTEED* to belong to them… and they will sit on anything that’s on theirs.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I feel like the word for this is karma. Or maybe it’s “Common Sense: Get Some.” I would have a hard time taking that complaint seriously and would have laughed, too :)

          2. None Of This Nonsense, Please*

            Yes, seriously about coming over if you’re allergic–and don’t *lie* about it!! A friend wanted to test whether my house bothered her allergies…when she left I asked if she was OK, she insisted no nope everything was fine, not a problem. Then never came over again with many excuses. I only found out from another friend, who got very snarky at me for inviting them to mine when friend 1 couldn’t breathe at my house ’cause of the cats!

              1. None Of This Nonsense, Please*

                Yeah, I should have specified former friends. Not that specific incident, but it didn’t help, and when we drifted apart I didn’t try to prevent it.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Serious side-eye. Talk about passive-aggressive.

                Also, does your handle refer to Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series?

          3. Nic*

            I am a cat owner, and I agree.

            On the other side, I am invited to a friend’s house frequently (and they never visit me even when invited) and this friend has multiple dogs who like to jump on people a lot. In situations with pets behaving that way I feel it is reasonable if you have been invited over to ask that the dogs be made to behave will put in location where they can’t jump on the you.

            1. seejay*

              Oh I have no problems with requests that my pets don’t crawl all over someone who doesn’t want them on them, which is why I’d train dogs to not jump up on people (cats can’t be trained as such obviously, but they’re much more easily dissuaded from going up on people at least!) I fully understand that not everyone loves pets and that they wouldn’t want them jumping, climbing, sitting, etc and I’d respect their request. Just.. don’t put your stuff down where the cats will sit on it or be annoyed that you’ve picked up fur on your clothes if you visit. ^_^

              1. Nic*

                Totally agree on that.

                And in my experience, cats can be trained, it just takes a bit of work. Mine understands “no” and will pull his nose out of a bowl of human food or step away from raw chicken if I tell him to. Not to say he wouldn’t eat it if I left it on the counter if I left food out, though. lol. That depends on the cat and its personality, I suspect.

            2. Anja*

              I admittedly go with full disclosure: I have an 80 pound dog that doesn’t jump on people, but will jump around people when they first come in and will try to bully you into playing with her afterwards. Let me know if you are uncomfortable creating your own relationship with the dog in which case I will act as though you are a small child and create the relationship for you (and that’s not meant to sound condescending, just that it’s like my niece and nephew that are three and five…they were not dog experienced or big enough to create their own authority, nervous people are the same way) – but it always will be hectic when you first come in. If you are uncomfortable with that boisterous greeting or that I’ll have to nudge her and her toy away from you a few times we probably shouldn’t be meeting at my house – which is also totally fine and I won’t begrudge anyone that. Every person who plans to come to my house is told this in detail.

              We’re working on calm greetings, but it takes time. But she only gets locked away if there’s an appointment at my house ie. the furnace repair person. Other people have an option to be there or not.

      3. an anon is an anon*

        I think it comes down to people who are REALLY obsessed with their pets. You know, the dog people who are offended if you don’t like dogs/are allergic and the cat people who are offended if you don’t like cats/are allergic. Those types of people, I’ve found, tend to take your allergies or dislike as vicious, abusive hatred. Or who think some people say they’re allergic just to have an “excuse” for not liking dogs/cats. I’ve found these people will usually be all, “oh, you like dogs but are “allergic” to cats, suuuure” and are the worst of the worst when it comes to pets.

        I’ve run into the same situation with people not believing that I’m only allergic to shrimp and not all shellfish. Allergies are weird. Some people are allergic to weird things, or only one type of food in a larger food group. I don’t really understand why people question allergies as if it’s inconveniencing them.

        Like, I’m just as likely to swell up over coming in contact with a cat as I am by eating shrimp, so why does it matter that I won’t swell up if I pet a dog or eat lobster? Ugh people.

        1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          That weirdness in the shellfish allergy seems to be known at my doc’s office at least. Their allergy panel separates shrimp and clams. Like you, I’m allergic to shrimp, but not necessarily all shellfish (clams are okay apparently).
          It’s like people are individuals with individually weird bodies!

          1. an anon is an anon*

            It runs really weird in my family. My mum is only allergic to clams, my grandfather to crab, an uncle to scallops, my brother to lobster, but they can eat all other shellfish without a problem. To be honest, I’m kind of fascinated by how it happened. Genetics are crazy.

          2. hermit crab*

            My husband is only allergic to salmon — no other fish/shellfish. Apparently even the allergist was surprised at that one!

          3. wanda*

            Clams and shrimp are totally different kinds of animals, though. Clams are molluscs, and shrimp are crustaceans. They’re just as different as snails and butterflies, and they’re actually much more different from each other than anchovies and people are.

        2. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Ug, I’ve run into those types online a couple of times, but if I know any of them in person it hasn’t come up. I was told once that referring to someone as a “pet owner” was endorsing slavery. O_O

          1. an anon is an anon*

            It seems more intense online because, in my experience, people are more willing to yell about how everyone hates their preferred pet of choice behind the safety of a computer screen.

          2. Lissa*

            Weirdly, all the super obsessed pet owners I know in real life have reptiles. There seems to be something about having reptiles that means you don’t stop at one! (obviously a huge generalization involving people I know!) I have no idea why this is by my Facebook feed is regularly filled with more snakes than cats. (I don’t mind, snakes are cool too.)

        3. None Of This Nonsense, Please*

          It’s not just allergies, either…I had a firm ‘ask-before-petting’ rule when my kids were young (still have it but don’t need to enforce it as much) and a number of times I was yelled at ‘My Pookie LOVES kids and would never bite!’ when I kept the kids from rushing up. Several times it was as Pookie was snarling with a lifted lip…

      4. Bex*

        People get very worked up about their pets. I have had people tell me “POOKIE IS A LABRODOODLE! HE IS A PUREBRED AND HE IS HYPOALLERGENIC” as my eyes start swelling shut and I break out in hives from their hypoallergenic dog jumping all over me.

        I’m basically allergic to 90% of things with fur, to varying degrees. Which made for a very difficult day when I was seven and realized I probably wasn’t going to be a large animal vet when I grew up… that said, I LOVE animals. My husband knows when I’m stressed because I come home with weeping, red eyes because dammit, I needed to pet the puppy I saw on my walk home.

        1. Clinical Social Worker*

          Yeah…we’re allergic to what’s in their saliva…not their hair. They may not shed and spread it everywhere but they are producing junk that makes us sick. If you’re sensitive enough even just a bit will set you off. People don’t understand this.

      5. k*

        I also find it funny that people don’t believe you can be allergic to cats and not dogs. Like, would they believe that a person is allergic to strawberries but not apples? They’re both red fruit, must mean they’re the same thing. How annoying.

      6. Anna*

        People definitely get hostile. Or they just refuse to believe you. I actually have saved in my phone a photo of what I look like when I have an allergy attack. I show it to people when they give me a hard time. Like, “yes, guy manning the check-in desk for my flight, I do need you to tell me whether I’m sitting within 10 or so rows of any animals, and I need you to move my seat if I am, because either you tell me where the animals are sitting, or you need to tell me where the doctors on the plane are sitting because I’ll need someone to administer emergency medical care after my face swells up and my airway closes like THIS.” Works pretty well.

    2. KarenD*

      Re: People not believing you, I was really glad that OP took pains to make it absolutely clear that the allergies are 100 percent legit and that this is a valued worker. Too often, I think, people aren’t believed until they get really sick.

    3. Whats In A Name*

      We run into this too. My partner is severely allergic to dogs and cats. Dogs he just gets puffy or a little sneezy and if we are in a house with wooden floors he can sometimes survive about 30 minutes before he starts. Cats he actually ends up in the emergency room within minutes of contact. If I am at a friends house and they have a cat I get undressed in the garage before coming inside.

      People react multiple ways:
      1) curiosity: surely you are exaggerating, no one is that allergic
      2) judgment: well, if his parents would have let him have animals this wouldn’t have ever even been an issue
      3) disbelief: that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard
      4) denial: well, our house is really clean and we don’t allow the pets on furniture
      5) liars: no, we don’t have a dog. Partner, 5 minutes into visit: Somethings wrong, my throat is starting to get itchy. Wait, what is that barking noise coming from the bedroom. Seriously, this happened.
      6) intolerance: if he was my partner I would leave him in a second if he puts these silly demands on me.
      7) arm chair psychoanalysts: it’s all in your head

      It’s a battle. All the time.

      1. LaterKate*

        Wow. That is awful, especially if these people are supposedly friends. I really hope there’s a number 8 that includes your friends acknowledging that allergies are awful and that they’re sorry you’re husband has to deal with that, and asking what they can do to help.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          Yes! We most definitely have some #8’s and they are at our house often or we meet them out. They get it and never 2nd guess it.

      2. Murphy*

        People LIED about having a dog? WTF?

        I have a friend who is allergic to our dogs (and to cats as well, I think). We tend to get together at their place more often than ours. Obviously we clean what we can, but unless it’s nice enough to sit outside, we know he won’t stay over long. I’ve never accused him of exaggerating.

        1. Chalupa Batman*

          Ugh, seriously. I’ll never understand why people think lying makes sense in these situations. I have a friend who has a terrible reaction to eggs. One time when he mentioned it, a relative announced, “well I used eggs in the lasagna the other night, and you were fine.” My friend wasn’t fine, but had spared his family the details of his gastrointestinal symptoms (he hadn’t known about the egg when he ate it, so didn’t have any idea why he’d gotten sick). He promptly revoked that courtesy. Props to OP for recognizing that the allergy is real, and that asking someone to take meds is not an acceptable solution. Meeting by phone-so simple I never would have thought of it!

        2. Whats In A Name*

          Yes. That person is no longer on our list of friends because, well, they LIED. I said, you don’t have pets right (I couldn’t remember and this was a couple we see socially) and she said, “nope, no pets at all.” So we’re trying to figure out why S/O is having a meltdown reaction and hear a dog bark. We haven’t talked to that couple since and it was last year.
          You are super nice to understand and empathize with your friend….honestly sometimes people don’t realize it’s not just an in the moment thing either. Sometimes a bad reaction can lead to respiratory infections or wheezing that lingers for days.

          Like Chalupa said, normally we’ll try to hide it and make an exit if something triggers a reaction (because he has some other allergy triggers, like certain scents, mold, etc.) or sometimes he ran into something earlier in the day/on the way so we don’t want to cause a scene. I’ll ask about pets always, but that is all. But when someone blatantly does something egregious I get PISSED and it shows.

      3. Kris*

        My husband and teenage son are allergic to cats and dogs. Fortunately their allergies are no life-threatening, but often their allergies put them in bed for a day or two and sometimes have led to pneumonia (in the case of my son). The allergies have prevented us from going (or staying for long) at holiday gatherings and have prevented my son from spending the night with most of his friends (since most of his friends have a cat or dog), going to the house of some friends, and even carpooling with some friends (where a dog has ridden in the car). Some people are understanding but most people cannot believe that the allergies are that bad and sometimes are offended because they believe we are using the allergies as an excuse not to see them. It actually caused a family rift at one point! I’ve jokingly told my son that he is going to have a very limited choice of life partners because so many people have pets. If my son moved in, the pet would have to move out, and most people — understandably — would not be receptive to that! Allergies are really tough.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I commented above about the lingering part – a lot of people don’t get that either. It’s not like “oh, itchy throat and runny eyes for a few hours then all better once we leave”. There are many times it’s led to lasting issues and you never know when that is going to happen. It’s a crap shoot.

          I forgot to list the one-uppers and the self-absorbed ones: “Well, my son is allergic to dogs and we have one.” and “Fergus just doesn’t like your father so that is why you say his allergies are so bad”

      4. Fellow Allergy Sufferer*

        #5 – Can’t even tell you how often this happens.

        Actually had a friend tell me she thought my allergies were “all in my head” so if I didn’t see her cat I wouldn’t react. I wanted to yell at her all the way to the emergency room, but I couldn’t spare the air.

        1. Dutiful DIL*

          This +100000000

          My mother in law believes my severe cat allergies are “all in my head” too! When told by my husband that we’d be happy to host Thanksgiving, or if she insisted on hosting, I wouldn’t be able to stay long, her reaction was “I’ve never even seen her sniffle” Maybe because I take 4 different allergy medications before stepping foot in her house, stand (wouldn’t dare sit on the dander-laden sofa) near an open window the whole time, and then shower myself and bathe all 4 children immediately when I get home. Even then, I’m zonked out from the meds for the rest of the day.

          Definitely something I’m doing to garner attention.

    4. Merci Dee*

      About the side effects of taking allergy medication . . . .

      I’ve been taking allergy meds for a number of years now for reactions to pollen from weeds and trees, and to dust mites and certain types of molds. I live in the southeast, so spring and fall are hell on earth for me — sinus infections, bronchitis, etc. Had sinus surgery to help with the infections, but it only worked for a couple of years before I was back in utter misery. My ENT put me on 3 different allergy meds to help with the seasonal reactions. He suggested that I take my pills and nasal spray right before I go to bed at night. All 3 of the meds work for 24 hours, but they can all cause drowsiness for several hours after taking them. So he suggested I take them right before I hop in bed for 8 hours ( . . . right . . . 8 hours of sleep a night . . . . heh heh heh . . . . ), and I found that it really does help mitigate some of the drowsiness. Also, it helps to make sure that I don’t have much trouble dropping off to sleep at bedtime. So it’s kind of a win on both sides.

      1. LavaLamp*

        Ugh, as a fellow sinus surgery patient you’ve got my sympathy. Anecdotal story, my mom has the same sort of problems I was born with and it took her two years of a chronic sinus infection before she found a proper doctor that actually looked up her nose instead of saying she was on drugs.

        No one quite believes I’m allergic to as many antibiotics as I am. I tell people, I’m not afraid of getting into an accident and ending up in the hospital. I’m afraid the well meaning nurse will give me a shot of penicillin or something and kill me that way.

        1. Merci Dee*

          My dad had the same sort of surgery I did, about a year or so before me. I was expecting massive pain, based on his post-op behavior, but it wasn’t too bad. Some Tylenol-3 the day after, and I was good to go after that. I hated sleeping propped up, though, because I’m typically a side-sleeper.

          Weird, though – before my surgery, my GP gave me so many courses of Augmentin for sinus infections that I developed a sensitivity to it. If I take it now, feels like my skin is on fire because it’s hyper sensitive. Touching my skin or hair is agony, and I have to scarf prednisone for 3 days to get back to normal.

  5. Leatherwings*

    Wow, that’s a serious enough allergy that it likely affects him in other areas of his life too. He might very well have ideas on how to mitigate the issue, so seconding the advice to ask him!

    1. FN2187*

      Yes, agreed.

      As a person with severe, bordering on lethal proximity allergies (not to cats, but something equally common), your staff member probably isn’t putting up a fuss (assuming he isn’t, of course) because he doesn’t want to be a burden or make things difficult. I have asked my own family members to be accommodating of my allergy, but they scoff and say, “oh, you’re not that allergic,” or, “it’s not that bad.” It gets very annoying to have something as serious as a lethal allergy minimized by those closest to you.

      The fact that you are cognizant of this and wanting to make accommodations for him speaks volumes. Many, many people are not. Ask him what will work best for him — I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.

    2. Sylvia*


      My mother had this exact problem with a coworker. He had ways of working around it. Unfortunately, it was a very long time ago and I don’t remember the details enough to give advice. Anyway, ask him! He’ll have ideas.

  6. animaniactoo*

    3 things:

    1) Cat-allergic me who is starting my meds now so that I can spend a day and a half in and out of my sister’s house in 3 weeks thanks you for the moment of sorrow.

    2) My office is fairly open plannish, and I’ve sometimes found myself on the phone with a co-worker two desks away who I can see. So we get all the “face-to-face” benefits of facial expressions, etc. while still on the phone. Are you near enough that this would be possible with him?

    3) Is it possible to book a conference room? Go outside? I am far better outside where the air counteracts some of the allergen transfer (unless it’s blowing in my face, in which case, that just backfired).

    Question: Are you scheduling the one-on-ones with him in advance? Because as somebody who is so allergic, as long as it’s not an every day thing, him needing to take meds to have a meeting with you is just part of his need to make some accommodations for himself and something he should be completely open to doing. But it takes about half an hour or so for a short-term med to really kick in and he’d need time to prepare himself for that.

      1. chocolate lover*

        Depends on the nature of the conversation and location, some work conversations I couldn’t/wouldn’t want to have at a coffeehouse or anywhere else where people could over hear it.

        That’s not even counting my difficulty in sorting out background noise which is likely to make it more difficult for me to engage in the conversation.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Totally. But basic check-ins are typically fine in a coffeehouse booth if available. I’ve done many check-ins at similar places. OP doesn’t always have to do this, but it might be nice to switch it up when the situation allows.

    1. Letters*

      High five to another sufferer! I’m allergic to cats … but still have them. To be fair, I’m allergic to a lot of other stuff too, so I’d already be on allergy medication 7-8 months out of the year anyway, so to me staying on them year round isn’t that big a deal.

      And that’s definitely a point .. I’ve learned a LOT about allergy medications, and one of those things is that they can take 2-3 weeks of consistent use to build up in your system.

      Another thing I’ve learned (don’t know if it will help you or not) is that the 12-hour formula works much better than the 24! With the 12-hour formula, it usually wears off at about 11.5 hours. With the 24-hour formula .. it wears off after about 20 hours. :( Yuck!

  7. jhhj*

    Are these meetings primarily scheduled in advance? Can you — this is a lot, so it might not be reasonable, but if it happens to work it might be a solution — have an outfit that you wash and that lives in the car/office, and change just for your meetings? There are lots of reasons that might be unfeasible, of course. But clothes that never go into your cat-ful house might be enough.

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        I love this idea, but it also makes me think of crime scene guys. (Without the bees, obviously.)

        1. Bolte*

          I totally misread – I was picturing her coming to work in an actual bee costume. Everything from getting dressed in front of her cat, to taking public transit, to leading an important meeting. No one can take that away from me.

          1. Seal*

            Since my cats get excited about bees outside the window, I can only imagine how excited they’d get by someone dressed as a giant bee indoors. The OP would probably never get to her meeting!

            1. Dizzy Steinway*

              Mine too. Little blighter went through a phase of catching them, bringing them in through the catflap in his mouth and proudly releasing them in our bedroom. We had six of these in a week.

              1. annejumps*

                This is cracking me up. I can’t help thinking of Homer Simpson saying “The dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you!”

          2. irritable vowel*

            This made me laugh so hard – thank you. (And now I can’t get the Bumblebee Tuna theme song from the 70s/80s out of my head.)

          3. Boris*

            One of my colleagues called in sick for a while once because she had a nasty fall wearing her “bee suit”. Like you, I am resolute in my mental image.

      2. LawBee*

        I would totally wear a beekeepers outfit if it meant Lee Pace would slow dance with me on a rooftop.

      3. Nea*

        I didn’t go full beekeeper, but I did have a long, oversized cardigan that went straight from the wash to a plastic bag to the office to try to hold the dander down on occasions like this. There are five of the furballs in my house, so I have been known to set off allergies.

      4. jhhj*

        Yes, I think wearing one of those would be much less distracting and distancing than a phone call. We’ve solved the problem!

        1. Meg Murry*

          And along with OP’s beekeeper or Hazmat suit, the coworker can wear a face mask (image search for “allergy face mask” for some quite interesting looking ones).

          At that point, they probably would be able to understand each other better over the phone than they would in full protective garb :-)

    1. OhNo*

      Unfortunately, even that might not be enough. I knew someone in college who was so allergic that I basically couldn’t be in an enclosed space with her for a day or two after visiting my cats at home. Even after changing clothes, enough (dander? hair? I’ve no idea.) stuck to either my hair or my backpack or some other part of me that she would still get sniffly and watery-eyed.

      Even if it did work, changing clothes in the middle of the day just for a short meeting seems like a bit much to ask. I think Alison’s phone or video conversation is a bit more sustainable, and less fuss for both parties.

    2. MicroManagered*


      This was my thought too. It sounds like OP is willing to go a little above and beyond to accommodate this employee.

      Also, as a multi-cat owner, changing out of work clothes immediately and not sitting on furniture is just kind of my life, so that’s something to consider as well, just as a general practice.

    3. MegaMoose, Esq*

      You may have to pair this with vacuuming your car regularly, too. I keep my interview suit in the dry-cleaning bag between interviews and don’t put it on until I’m about the leave, and it still picks up hair if I’m not careful about cleaning the car. The phone option might be the easiest way out.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        I initially saw the end of your first sentence as “vacuuming your cat.” Turns out it was a reado rather than a typo. Either way: I am disastrously allergic to cats and I still wouldn’t recommend vacuuming them. :-)

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Oh lord, the thought of trying to vacuum my cats is hilarious. They would murder me.

          1. HisGirlFriday*

            I also absolutely read this as ‘vacuuming your cat,’ and thought, ‘Wow, MegaMoose is much braver than I am!’ I also wondered if there was a Furminator that attached to a vacuum for easier pet hair removal.

          2. Dizzy Steinway*

            My cat hates the vacuum but likes to follow it around, simultaneously complaining and inspecting what you’ve done.

          3. NotMyRealName*

            We had a cat that insisted on being vacuumed. I guess he wasn’t afraid of the noise and it must have felt like a full body massage.

            1. Jools*

              My cat also loves being vacuumed. She’ll actually beg for it if I’ve left the vacuum sitting out. Sadly, she sheds so much it just barely puts a dent in things…

        2. Murphy*

          Me too! My vacuum actually has an attachment for vacuuming your dogs, but I haven’t tried it yet. Do not think they would appreciate it.

          1. Kewlm0m*

            Our Lab loves being vacuumed! He also loves being dried off by the leaf blower in the summer, after bath or swimming. :) He will actually follow my husband around whenever hubby is using the leaf blower, trying to get in between the blower and the leaves, “insisting” as it were…

        3. VioletEMT*

          I also read “vacuuming your cat”! And then I remembered my aunt had a cat who would let my cousin vacuum her. She was super laid-back. I miss that cat.

        4. TC*

          I have definitely met a cat that enjoyed vacuuming. Because all cats, in one way or another, are weirdos. Loveable, loveable weirdos.

        5. Tilly W*

          I actually have had a couple of cats who loved being vacuumed. It was weird but an effective brushing technique! My two now are terrified of the vacuum so we will not be attempting that…

        6. CDM*

          My father is a woodworker, lots of loud machinery and sawdust.

          One of the cats used to hang out in his workroom, and when dad finished for the day, he shop-vacuumed up all the sawdust in his work area – including shop-vacuuming the cat. Cat loved it.

      2. copy run start*

        Good point. My cat is only in the car for yearly vet visits but it’s still coated in hair….

    4. pomme de terre*

      I was thinking along these lines too. Like perhaps if they meet later in the day (ie, more time OP has been away from cats), it will be less bad.

    5. Sunflower*

      This was my thought too. It might not solve the problem but it’s easy and inexpensive to give it a shot.

  8. Sarah*

    Another possible option for at least some of these meetings, at least depending on the topic and the weather/what it’s like around your building, is to hold a meeting outdoors while walking (or even sitting somewhere out of the way). Obviously I would not suggest this for a meeting where you’re sharing a lot of negative criticism or anything else super personal, but for a lot of manager-employee check-ins it’s perfectly fine. I had a manager who used to do this for a lot of meetings when the weather was good and it was awesome. Even though it’s not exactly “private”, people aren’t really able to eavesdrop on the conversation as a whole because you’re moving around. Plus you get to get out of the office, get moving a little, and just generally change up the normal routine, which is nice. And in this case, I’m guessing that not being in an enclosed space might help a lot with the allergies. Of course there’s a lot of reasons this might NOT work (like if your office is in a not-great-to-walk-around area or if your employee just doesn’t like going for walks!) but it’s at least an option to consider because with the right set of circumstances, it can be pretty nice!

    1. CAA*

      I was also going to suggest this. I’ve done “walk-and-talk” meetings when there was no private space available indoors and it works quite well for most things.

  9. Bend & Snap*

    I’m allergic to cats, although not THIS allergic. it’s very sad. I can’t be in the home of someone with a cat.

    I like the phone TB. It has to be really awkward for this guy given that OP is his superior but he’s having this reaction.

  10. SarahKay*

    I love cats, but am moderately allergic to them :( Anti-histamines work for being in the same room as a cat, but I once made the mistake of not washing my hands after stroking one of them. At some point I obviously touched my eye, which promptly started to weep and swell till it was almost swollen shut. Fortunately a very (very) thorough rinse out, plus an extra anti-histamine managed to restore it to more-or-less normality in about half an hour, but definitely touch was the mistake. And MuseumChick is right that it’s typically the dander that’s the allergen, which is basically dust-sized and a lot less obvious than fur.

    Given that, can I check that you’re not shaking hands with him when you meet him, or any other touch? That’s a terribly easy way to transfer the allergens. The other thing I noticed is that you mentioned you have to sit outside your office. I would guess that your office is likely to have a build-up of allergens, simply because it’ll gradually come in over time on your clothes, however well washed. Would a different office help – ideally one with no soft furnishings, or at least one that you rarely use, which wouldn’t have that higher allergen level. That might make all the difference.

    1. StrikingFalcon*

      Another option is an air filter for the office, to help with the general accumulation.

      1. Meg Murry*

        A HEPA filter might help the office – other filters might just suck up the dust and dander and re-distribute it in the room and air. Finding out if the office HVAC filters are being changed as often as recommended could help, as could asking if the cleaners have a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

        Although, along these lines, some things the OP could do that might make her a tiny bit less of a walking allergy bomb (or at least make her feel like she is doing *something*, and might make her place a little cleaner too). Note that I would consider the types of things below here going above and beyond, and just general advice for the OP, not necessarily something I think she really 100% needs to do. At home:
        -If you need a new vacuum cleaner, get one with a HEPA filter (and change the filters regularly)
        -Shampoo the carpets and upholstered furniture. Shampooing your car upholstery can help too.
        -If possible, keep work clothes outer layers (blazers, cardigans, etc) in a separate closet with a door that closes (hall closet perhaps?) and don’t re-hang clothes you’ve worn once back in the closet with freshly laundered clothes. If you have clothing like blazers dry-cleaned, consider keeping it in the dry cleaner bag and not putting it on at all until you get to work.
        -Go for unscented products like laundry detergent, dryer sheets, lotions, etc wherever possible. It may not be the case for the co-worker, but for me, once any one of my allergens is tripped off, I become much more sensitive to all the things that I am normally only mildly allergic to. So on a normal day my coworker’s freesia body spray or spring fresh dryer sheets or residual pet dander might make me just a tiny bit sneezy – but during the height of tree pollen season, my body goes into overdrive whenever I encounter another allergen too.

  11. Sibley*

    The phone meeting sounds good, but definitely ask him for ideas.

    Also – if you have a poor reaction to one type of allergy medicine, try another one. Often, people will respond differently to different meds. And you can become immune to some of the side effects over time. (lifetime allergy sufferer who’s now allergic to one of my cats but not the other. sheesh.)

  12. yqxuihh*

    I would suggest not mentioning the stuff about your cleanliness when you talk to him, unless he brings it up. I’m moderately allergic to cats (which, as MusuemChick pointed out, means barely any reaction to some cats and breaking out in hives around others). I understand why people might feel defensive, but it’s really frustrating when my physical reactions are taken as criticisms of somebody’s cleaning! I’ve literally had people recite their vacuuming schedule every time I sneeze. One person did an extreme deep-clean (without telling me) before I arrived at her house, and then pouted because she felt unappreciated when I blew my nose. I’m sure my allergies would have been worse without the cleaning, but no amount of cleaning is going to stop me from reacting completely.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I tend to agree, but I imagine the OP wanted to include it in her letter to pre-empt a comment section and prevent useless advice about laundry and lint rollers that OP has already tried.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Haha, yeah, I read that as a way of pre-emptively warding off lots of “have you considered washing your clothes and bathing?” comments, which are both frustrating and pointless if you have done all the reasonable first try fixes.

    2. animaniactoo*

      You would have to hazmat clean a location that had a cat before I could stay in it for longer than 4 or hours while on meds, and not have a reaction.

    3. MadGrad*

      I feel like my first response would be to say something similar, but intended more as a “I’m sorry! I’m not a jerk and did try, so please dont hate me!” I’ll try to keep this in mind if I ever have this problem with allergies that I’m triggering.

      1. LavaLamp*

        This. Mold is a huge allergy issue for me. I was allergic to my best friends house thru middle school. You can clean every day and have mold. And honestly if the top level of your four story house smells like musty basement you might have a problem with your actual house.

  13. Dizzy Steinway*

    If he’s that allergic he must surely be affected at other times so I’m thinking he’s probably either tried medicine, or has reasons for not wanting to – it’s highly unlikely that he’s unaware of the idea. I’m mentioning this not because I’m doubting the situation (in case anyone misconstrues that from my first line) but because if he’s made it to adulthood with these allergies then he is unlikely to be in need of suggestions. Maybe I’m wrong, but this could end up feeling a bit like ‘well-splaining’.

    Phone or video sounds like a really good solution.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      It’s also a factor of the right doctor. For years I suffered under someone that only treated the symptoms. I was on cortisone steroids every single spring. Even then I could barely breathe.
      In university I changed doctors and ended up with an immunologist instead of a mere allergist. What a difference!!!! Within 3 years of aggressive treatment I was down to mere stuffy nose (and then only seasonally).
      I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but many times people settle because they think that they are receiving the best care already.

    2. SystemsLady*

      While I am honestly curious if things like Benadryl help for such mild exposure, less from a helping OP or the employee standpoint and more from not knowing much about this kind of allergy, I agree.

      Not to mention a lot of those medications make a lot of people sleepy (not exactly conducive to work!) so there’s all the less reason to doubt the employee hasn’t tried it.

  14. Cynical Lackey*

    Is there a coat or sweater hanging in your office? It may not be the clothing you are wearing alone. It could also be the coat or scarf hanging in your office.

    Do you have an upholstered chair at your desk? The clothing you wore last week when you didn’t meet with him could have spread allergens to that chair.

    The best thing seems to be to meet on his terms. Allison addressed 1 on 1 meetings, but if he is in a group of 5 or 6, there are times when you all meet.

    This may sound over the top to some, but cat allergies are real problems to some. When I am exposed to the allergens, my throat swells up, I cannot breathe without wheezing, and my symptoms can remain for 12 to 48 hours after I remove myself from whatever situation has exposed me tot he allergens. A cat does not even need to be present. I was suffering a few weeks ago because a friend visited from out of town. She had spent a few hours with her cat owning sister, before coming to my house. Since she likes to be shoe-less, her socks contaminated all my carpets. I had to shampoo them all after she left.

    1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      I’m curious in this instance – if she had removed the socks would it have been as bad, or if she had kept her shoes on, or if there were booties or something for her to wear at your house? I don’t at all disbelieve – I have a friend whose allergies to some things are really intense, she’s one who can’t touch a doorknob if you touched it with peanut-butter-fingers before her or she will need an epi-pen – but I don’t have allergies as bad as that and don’t understand necessarily how the transfer works. (I’m allergic to cigarette smoke, but that doesn’t tend to be as bad unless I am trapped in a small space with a heavy smoker, even if they haven’t smoked recently.)

      1. Cynical Lackey*

        Good question. Next time she comes; I will probably insist she go sockless or put on clean socks if she wants to wear them. Perhaps I might ask her to change her clothes altogether. All I can go buy is the anecdotal evidence,. i really don’t know of any actual research on the subject.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Yes to changing all of her clothes if possible. If not, lay a towel or sheet over any soft/fabric surface before she sits on it, to prevent contamination. Also make sure she washes her hands before she touches anything in your house.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      Upholstered chair? Maybe the OP should get a chair covered in naugahyde or some kind of plastic which can be easily wiped down? And maybe an air purified for their office?

    3. Just Another Techie*

      I once had a reaction to a friend’s cat so severe that the sclera of my eyeballs swelled up, in addition to my throat swelling almost closed, and my lungs getting tight. I’m more or less used to the respiratory symptoms and carry an inhaler with me everywhere, but the eyeballs thing was new to me and scary as all heck. It looked really disgusting and stayed swollen and scary-looking for two days.

  15. Paloma Pigeon*

    The problem is the best medicines to alleviate symptoms are not great – for that level of reaction you would need full-on steroids, not just antihistamines. What about Skype/Google Hangout/Anymeeting? Could the check ins happen when he is still at home and he could use his own computer, like early or late in the day?

    Any my husband has been to the ER too many times due to severe cat allergy/asthma. He’s cracked a rib trying to breathe after exposure. It’s no joke.

  16. Allergic to Everything*

    Actually cleanliness doesn’t have much to do with it if the particular cat allergy is to the salivary proteins of cats, as opposed to hair or dander.

    1. bridget*

      My research on this topic has certainly been less thorough than yours, but I thought that hair/dander and salivary proteins were related – as in, cats lick themselves for grooming, coating their fur in the protein, which then delivers allergens far wider than the actual cat is allowed to roam. If that’s the case, even if cleaning doesn’t solve the problem entirely, it’s still probably worth doing. Even if one can’t cure, one should strive to mitigate.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        This is my understanding too.

        Even if it’s a cat saliva allergy, they get it in their fur and skin (dander), so you’re still allergic to the whole situation.

        My SO falls into this category – so the cat licking them is more problematic than petting the cat, but it’s all unhappy. Luckily, their allergies are mild enough that meds and cleanliness is enough to control it and I get to keep the cat ;)

        1. Natalie*

          My ex had a similar issue with dogs – he can be around one and even pet it a bit, but any licking or contact with the dog’s food and water dishes is a big problem.

      2. Anna*

        I’m not sure, but it could be that part of it (especially for cats) is that they lick all over, so you’re still coming into contact with their saliva.

    2. Bunny Purler*

      This is interesting. My friend and fellow shepherd/textile artist has no problem handling the wool from our sheep, but will come out in a rash if the sheep lick her. Sheep don’t groom themselves, of course, nor do they groom and lick one another. Wool allergies are so common, but this seems to be something rather different from the ordinary sort.

  17. Amber Rose*

    The solution is to enclose yourself in a giant hamster ball with an attached air filtration system.

    Just kidding. But I wonder if there isn’t a way to isolate some of your work clothing so it isn’t exposed to kitties as much. Like putting it in plastic after washing.

    But probably phones and/or video chat are the easiest way.

    1. Janey*

      Funny, I was picturing them on the phone on opposite sides of the conference room glass wall like a prison visitation scenario.

  18. Receptionist Barbie*

    I have one of those cats that *everyone* reacts to. He has thick fur and dry skin, which causes excess dander to shed around my home. I am pretty tidy (daily Roomba + constant vacuuming), but he will always just set people off. It is what it is.

  19. DiscoTechie*

    Let me first say, I am blessed not to have any known allergies to things petted or ingested. That be said, I have a ton of friends and family members with varying degrees of reactions from light sniffles to “Please pass the epi-pen,” so a I tend to have a higher awareness of potential allergens than most. I have a coworker who is allergic to practically everything and I have earned her eternal gratitude by making the suggestion that she drive rather than me in my used to haul dogs and the occasional cat allergen-mobile to a meeting 2 hours away. I think the phone/skype interaction is going to be best here, as awkward as it might be. Still better than someone in the throes of an allergic reaction trying to work.

    1. Justme*

      My cat will be doubly pissed that I pushed him out of my bed this morning. It was so disrespectful of me.

        1. Justme*

          The drawback of them letting you live with them.

          Yes, cats are jerks. And yes, I still adore mine.

          1. Anna*

            The nice thing about cats, though, is they don’t discriminate. They are equally jerky to everyone.

            1. Gadfly*

              Actually, I just was reading an article that a study just proved that cats in general are loving enough to prefer spending time with people to eating. I don’t know how many dogs I can say that about…. ;)

  20. Mb13*

    This feels like a rather simple solutions. Keep your cloths in those ziplock bags that way the cat hairs will be off your clothes.

    1. Murphy*

      As sympathetic as I would also be in the OP’s place, I wouldn’t move to keeping all of my clothes in ziplocks for a few meetings.

    2. DeskBird*

      I think you underestimate how much pet hair can end up on your clothes walking directly from your bedroom to your car. And lets not get into asking the OP to get dressed in her garage (if she has one).

      1. k*

        Not to mention the hair that’s in your car (most pet owner’s have probably transported Fluffy to the vet, groomer, etc) or the surprising amount that manages to get on the inside of jackets and coats. I have two dogs and even if I could get dressed in my garage there would still be at least trace amounts of hair and/or dander on me. There’s just no escaping it.

        1. Jools*

          Cat hair is also remarkably persistent. I’ve noticed it on clean clothes as I take them out of the washing machine. Not to mention that yes, the coat that is the last thing I put on before I leave, and the first thing I take off when I get home, is the world’s greatest cat hair magnet and requires regular sessions with a lint roller that mostly just keep it from changing from black to grey.

          1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

            This. There are a couple pairs of pants I have that always seem to have cat hair on them, even right after I take them out of the wash. And my clothes are covered in cat hair shortly after I get home. We have a medium haired tuxedo cat – he sheds a lot less than our previous cat (a domestic longhair) but that’s still plenty of shedding!

  21. Me Too*

    Fluticasone propionate (Flonase) does not have horrible side effects. I use it so I can pet my cat. Also, I read this somewhere: “Talk to your vet about prescribing acepromazine for the cat. you dissolve a pill in a certain amount of water and then use a dropper and put a couple of drops on the cat’s food daily. It inhibits the production of the enzyme in cat saliva. That it what people are allergic too. It’s an off-label use of the med.” I haven’t tried it.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        It’s’ actually not nearly the effect of oral steroids, because it’s a spray and doesn’t significantly get into your blood stream. It’s actually safe enough to use during pregnancy, particularly at dosages used for allergies (the asthma treatments use much higher dosages). I’m not a doctor, but I did read the relevant medical publications when I was trying to get pregnant, because I’m not able to function without some sort of allergy medication.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      It might not be enough, though. I use it for seasonal allergies, but during peak pollen times, or to visit friends with cats, I need to supplement with antihistimines, and it’s definitely not enough to live with a cat. And my cat allergies are fairly mild compared to the OP’s colleague. The other issue is that it’s a maintenance medicine – you can’t take it just before the exposure, you need to take it every day, and it takes a while to kick in when you start.

      1. Observer*

        Flonase doesn’t have to be maintenance to work.

        But, it does have some fairly nasty side effects for some people. And, it doesn’t work / work well enough for everyone, either.

    2. VioletEMT*

      Medicating the cat? That’s unorthodox and could be a brilliant solution if it works.

    3. Salamander*

      My husband is allergic to our cats (and pretty much everything else that is green and grows). He uses Flonase and Claritin daily, and it works very well for him. He’s done this for years.

      Didn’t know about the acepromazine. I’ll look into that!

    4. ArtK*

      acepromazine is a tranquilizer. I’m not a big fan of off label uses like that, especially on my own animal to make someone else more comfortable.

      1. SystemsLady*

        It’s given in a very, very low dose from what I’ve heard. But yeah it’s a lot more intended for situations where somebody with a cat develops an allergy (or gets a SO with one) and otherwise the cat would be sent to a shelter.

    5. Observer*

      It may not have bad side effects for you, but for some others, it’s bad news. I get nosebleeds after 3 days of use. (nosebleeds are a known side effect, and an indicator to STOP taking the stuff.)

    6. Anna*

      I’m going to assume that if the employee has allergies this severe, he’s tried medical solutions. I can’t take Flonase. It has horrible side effects for me. It’s also a steroid, which can be dangerous. I’m on injectable immunotherapy every other day, two daily pills, and I still can’t be around cat hair without symptoms.

  22. Kate*

    Or maybe you can use videochat, skype or google hangout with him, so you’re *almost* face-to-face, but without the allergic side-effects :)

  23. Cam*

    I had a friend with very serious cat allergies – serious in the sense that she had to carry an EpiPen around because depending on her level of interaction with a cat or its environment, her throat would close up and she couldn’t breathe. I mean, of course she always tried to avoid cats, but she could get a bad reaction from being around someone who had a cat or from being in a house that contained a cat at some point in the relatively distant past (like an apartment whose previous owners had cats). Most cat allergies are not that serious, but some definitely can be, and it says nothing about you or your cat’s hygiene!

    But definitely ask the guy. Phones could work, but he might have other ideas. I can guarantee you that you’re not the first time he’s had this reaction, and you’re probably not the only cat owner he has to regularly interact with, either.

  24. Rose*

    Same. I once taught in a small classroom and had a student with two cats. Mom would take her straight from the shower to the laundry room to put on fresh clothes and I’d still be sniffling all day. I took fexofenadine (wal-fex if you buy it at Walgreens) everyday and it helped.
    I bring this up a lot when people say there shouldn’t be pets in public areas because of allergies. A) the animal being in the room doesn’t necessarily increase my reaction unless I touch it and B) at some point this is my problem to deal with and I have strategies to deal with it. I’ve been dealing with it all my life. As long as you don’t secretly rub me with a cat, it’s fine to let me deal with it.

    1. Cynical Lackey*

      Below are the side effects of Wal-fen (from Walgreen’s own website). please tell me why you are so comfortable telling people, specifically OTHER PEOPLE to accept these risks
      Do not use if you are now taking a prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) (certain drugs for depression, psychiatric or emotional conditions, or Parkinson’s disease), or for 2 weeks after stopping the MAOI drug. If you do not know if your prescription drug contains an MAOI, ask a doctor or pharmacist before taking this product. Ask a doctor before use if you have

      High blood pressure
      Thyroid disease
      Heart disease
      Trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland
      A breathing problem such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis

      Ask a doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking sedatives or tranquilizers When using this product

      Do not use more than directed
      Drowsiness may occur
      Avoid alcoholic drinks
      Excitability may occur, especially in children
      Alcohol, sedatives and tranquilizers may increase drowsiness
      Be careful when driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery

      Stop use and ask a doctor if

      You get nervous, dizzy, or sleepless
      Symptoms do not improve within 7 days or are accompanied by fever

      If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use.
      Keep out of the reach of children. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away..

      1. Green*

        This seems like a rather harsh reply. What you posted looks like the warning from a lot of allergy medicines that I’ve taken.

      2. NP*

        Eh, those same warnings are on many over the counter drugs, and I suspect most adults are savvy enough to determine on their own that they shouldn’t just read a stranger’s post on the Internet and immediately implement the suggestion without any further thought whatsoever.

      3. really*

        Every drug has side effects. And a lot of the listed side effects are there because everything that happens while on the drugs while they are being tested must be reported, even if there is no correlation.

      4. paul*

        There’s not an effective medication without a warning label in existence.

        I take Advil Cold and Sinus religiously once mesquite trees start blooming. They do have some side effects, and I can’t drink alcohol with them; but I’d still tell people to give them a shot.

      5. short'n'stout*

        I don’t see anything in Rose’s comment that could be described as “telling” anyone what medication to take.

    2. DeskBird*

      She’s not telling anyone to try that drug – she is just telling a story about her own experiences – how what seems like reasonable precautions can end up not working and how she personally coped with a situation in which she was forced to be around someone that triggered her allergies.

      1. Salamander*

        Exactly. I found it to be helpful. And I’m glad that no one is running around rubbing other people with cats – not that any cat I know would stand for it!

    3. Rose*

      Huh? I am not telling you or anyone to take wal-fed :p other people mentioned what they took so I mentioned what I take….

  25. Liane*

    Huh. I never realized the reaction could vary between cats. My husband is pretty allergic. Not epi-pen allergic, but bad enough. He took allergy shots for cat–& a lot of other things–as a kid, but did pretty well for years as an adult. We even visited for several hours weekly a couple with cats & he was fine as long as he had OTC allergy meds and he kept his distance. Several years later, the reactions to even casual, brief contact with cats worsened. He had to call in sick several times over a few months because his eyeballs–yes, I mean the eyeballs, not the lids–got so swollen that he couldn’t see well enough to drive to work, much less use a microscope when he got there. So I told him, “Look, if you’re missing work, it’s serious enough to talk to a doctor about getting back on the shots.” He actually listened.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Oh yes. I’m allergic to all cats, pretty much bad across the board. With many coping mechanisms in place I can get through some very limited contact. If I’m scratched, I have about 15 minutes to get to an ER before I’m in really bad trouble. Dogs? Some breeds are bad (but never as bad as cats) and some I don’t react to at all.

    2. Letters*

      Allergy shots wear off, too. :( This is what I’m running into now. I had the shots as a kid and they took my allergies from “how are you still alive” to “tolerable with medication” but it’s been 20 years since then and my allergies have been growing worse every year! When I asked, the doc told me that mileage varies, but 10-15 years is all you can reasonably expect out of them.

      1. Spex*

        I have extreme allergies (that can send me to the hospital) to cats and other things if I come across a trigger if I haven’t taken my meds. I know shots are one popular form of protection but I recommend that the OP talk to their doctor about one of or any combination of Fexofenadine, Montelukast, Fluticasone and Ceterazine (the generic names.) I’ve never experienced a single side effect.

  26. Jane*

    It seems like the easiest solution is phone/video-conference. Even if he does not have his own office, he can use headphones and it would be the same as if he is on a phone call or he can presumably get a conference room with a computer. It would be interesting to think through when a phone call vs. in-person/video conference is needed. I end up attending a lot of pointless in-person meetings that could be handled just as well on the phone but it’s true that certain meetings just make more sense to do in-person if you can.

  27. Ann Furthermore*

    The only thing I would add here is that while I agree that asking him to take medication could be overstepping, maybe if he knows he’s got a meeting with the OP, he could take something beforehand to help with the allergies. If the OP is scheduling meetings with little notice (maybe the same day) perhaps he doesn’t have time to take anything.

    I don’t have allergies, and I really feel for people who do. But if someone asked me, “I don’t know if you use any medication for your allergies, but if you do, would it help if I scheduled our 1 on 1 meetings with more notice so you could take something beforehand and have enough time for it to start working?” I wouldn’t think I’d be offended. That to me is far different than saying, “Can’t you just take a pill or something?” which implies that the allergies are no big deal, and/or that the allergic person is exaggerating the problem or being overly dramatic about it.

    Of course if the OP is already scheduling the meetings a day or 2 in advance, this might not be a solution. I think meeting by phone or Skype is a good solution, although it’s a drag that the OP may not be able to meet in person — some meetings, particularly 1 on 1’s, are more effective in person.

    1. Lison*

      I have a terrible reaction to all antihistamines, well I haven’t tried them all but a pharmacist and a doctor have told me based on what I do react to its not worth trying. Luckily I’m not allergic to pets but it might be the employee can’t, I know in my case it’s genetic. Phone calls or computer meetings seem to me to be the easiest solution

  28. animaniactoo*

    Thinking about my own routine for visiting my sister’s house and what she does in order for me to be able to visit, a few additional things which could help if you’re willing and you have the space:

    • Keep your work clothes and your other clothes separate, stored in separate locations. The work clothes should go in a closet that is kept closed and has no other “cat-contaminated” items in it.

    • Do not get dressed in the work clothes until you are ready to walk out of the house within a few minutes and don’t pet the cats goodbye or otherwise interact with them after you’ve changed into the work clothes.

    • Have a separate coat/jacket for work, because otherwise the allergens that transfer to the inside of your jacket from your regular clothes, will transfer from the inside of your jacket to your cat-free clothes. Not as bad as wearing the regular clothes lint-brushed, etc. but enough that it will severely undercut what you’d be trying to do in terms of isolating the allergens here.

    • Do not lay your clothing on any surface in your office that is fabric covered.

    • Have a chair in your office (this is for 2 minute meetings, not longer one-on-ones) that either isn’t cushioned or upholstered that he can sit in, or a leather one that you can dustbust and wipe down before he sits on it. NB: You would have to do that at least an hour before he came in to give everything remaining time to settle back down rather than being in the air when he walks in.

    I may think of other things, I’ll tack on if I do, but I need to go back to my problem project now…

      1. animaniactoo*

        Oh, you can do it, just not after you’ve changed into the work clothes. Prior to that, have at it and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before you change clothes.

      2. Justme*

        My cat *makes me* pet him goodbye. Or else just rubs against my legs until I almost fall over.

    1. SystemsLady*

      This is good advice! Wish there was a spray that neutralized the offending protein but alas.

      I think those coat hangers with big waterproof covers meant for carrying around fancy clothes in the rain would be a good option, if OP only has one closet and it’s a subset of OP’s clothes.

      Of course, it would have to be placed in and removed from that bag somewhere seperate from the closet or where cat dander is likely to be present (and you’d want to avoid the clothes brushing against the outside of it). For example, the bathroom, since it’s tiled and most aren’t set up in a way that cats like to hang out in them (assuming OP has one without a litter box in it).

    2. Shelix*

      I came here to recommend OP ask a friend without cats (or a laundry service place) to do a load of laundry away from her own home. 2-3 work shirts, 1 pair of work trousers that are not in the usual rotation. Then, once freshly laundered, keep them hanging in a discreet place at work in a garment bag. On days with a meeting with the affected team member, change into these clothes just for the meeting, then back out of them before much cross contamination occurs.

      That might sound excessive, but is it really more work than any of the other suggestions? At the very least, it’s another option to consider. As chemists, most of my department members have at the very least a spare shirt and shorts stashed in a drawer somewhere in case of a spill, so keeping extra clothes at work in general isn’t necessarily unprofessional.

      Good luck and i hope you find the answer.

  29. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    No advice, but I would like to echo other commenters and thank you for taking his allergies seriously. I hope you can find a solution that works for both of you.

  30. Church Administrator*

    As someone who also has a severe cat allergy (to the point where, yes, I have been known to react to the fur /dander on people’s clothing for certain cats), I think people have made a lot of really good suggestions. So instead of doing what has already been covered in detail, a few more general points about dealing with the situation and your colleague:

    – It has nothing to do with your cleaning ability. If someone’s cat allergies are so severe that they’re reacting to the fur / dander on your clothes, there’s probably not much you can do to mitigate it. Just living with cats means that you’ve got particulate matter in your hair, for example, and showering once you leave the house is probably going a step too far unless you’re already going to the gym or something.

    – Your colleague has almost certainly tried medication by now, probably a lot of different ones. Most antihistamines have side-effects (especially drowsiness, but also other stuff). If they’re strong enough to help, they may also be too strong to want to take on a daily basis.

    – Be enthusiastically open to the idea of accommodation. Unless you approach it from the very clear perspective of, “No, really, what can I do to make this better for you?”, your colleague might feel that while you *say* you want to help, you don’t *really* want to go through the effort. (Whether you actually intend this or not. People who have “been a burden” tend to be very sensitive to the idea of making people uncomfortable because of their weird medical issues.)

    Hopefully this helps. Good luck to both you and your colleague!

    1. Government Worker*

      Now I’m imagining an office where a manager who goes to the gym before work every day anyway ends up with a very cat-allergic employee, and it all works out very nicely for everyone.

  31. Gilmore67*

    Wow, this was totally me a year ago. I had to take another PT job at work when my husband was laid off. Between my already PT job and this PT job made me FT status to get insurance benefits.

    The other job was in a smaller office with shared desks and cloth chairs. Both co-workers had cats. A week or so into the job…. Bang. I was done for.

    Because I have bronchial problem anyway, add the cat stuff, the stress of hubby not working (he ended up going to school at getting his CDL) I was mess for quite a while.

    To add to the problem the job was talking to patients ( I work in a hospital) and taking their food orders. So as I am hacking, I am trying to help patients get the right food for their diets. I felt so bad coughing (mine gets really bad like I can go one for mins and mins at time ) but the patients were so nice and felt bad for me !

    I have no answers for the OP just thought I share this and know I am not alone with the cat allergy without even being near one.
    Oh… and also…. I so wish I can have a cat……. They are so much fun.

  32. Jerry Vandesic*

    Phone calls for 1-1 meetings sounds like a solution, but I wonder about group/team meetings. OP could use the phone to include the allergic colleague in a group meeting, but my experience has been that the experience for those on the phone is inferior to being there in person. This might impact the allergic person’s ability to participate as part of a team.

    1. Kyrielle*

      If there are group meetings and a phone is used/in person is a problem, maybe try the awkward (but equally-awkward for everyone) approach of the LW calling in from their office while the team gathers in a conference room. That will put the LW at a disadvantage, but it won’t put one team member on unequal footing.

  33. ilikeaskamanager*

    boy can I sympathize. I am so allergic I am starting to sneeze just thinking about a cat. And I like cats! Thank you for being thoughtful about your colleague. Hope you can figure something out.

  34. Jesmlet*

    How often do you wash your cats? No I’m not crazy lol…. this can really make a difference with people who are allergic to the dander. That stuff builds up so if you don’t wash them ever it makes it much worse. Same for dogs. We have a “hypoallergenic” dog but if she goes too long without a bath, she’ll start to bother me a bit.

    1. Gadfly*

      And there are shampoos that help. My younger stepson is allergic and they get special baths that do seem to help right before we get our turn with the boy.

  35. phil*

    One word: Claritin.
    I’m allergic to cats, had them all my life-including childhood, I hated the shots-until old age stopped me, and Claritin works wonderfully for me with no side effects that I can tell.

    1. blackcat*

      This is highly individual, though. Fexofenadine is my miracle drug, and Claritin makes me super sleepy and gives me terrible dry mouth. My brother is the opposite. Recommending drugs to an employee is going to far, too. I guarantee, if it has impacted his life this much, he has probably explored options. So the best thing to do is talk to him.

  36. Keli*

    Maybe meet in a coffee shop? I’ve met with my bosses before in coffee shops, and had good experiences. (And of course, meet with the other employees occasionally in coffee shops too, so they don’t feel that there is favoritism.)

  37. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    If he is that severely allergic to cats then he must have dealt with this issue before in others offices. Ask him what works for him. It’s a problem that is never going to go away even if you do. What if his next boss is a 30 cat owner?

  38. specialist*

    Cat allergies can be really severe. It is true that they are predominantly from the saliva. It sounds like this is impeding your ability to manage, and I commend you for wanting to fix the problem on your end.

    You can wipe your cats weekly. This can cut down as much as 80% of the dander. There are products for washing cats. Allerpet or Allercat would be one option. Just the wiping will make a big difference.

    Have your ducts cleaned in your house. Most of us don’t do this and we really should be doing it a couple of times a year.

    Clean and vacuum out your car regularly.

    You may need to wash your coat.

    You should consider leaving an outfit at the office that you have cleaned at the cleaners. This way you can meet with him in fresh clothing.

  39. Engineer Woman*

    By now, lots of good advice given. I would go with the phone call with colleague in his own c room, but ideas of disposable lab jackets or coverups that gets washed and put directly into a ziplock bag, even info about medications, might work and are interesting.
    Maybe vary things so that there is some face-to-face time. Asking colleague for his/her suggestions also a great idea.

    Anyway: thanks to OP for caring about your colleague to ask for advice. Not just in what
    you have attempted already but to branch out and solicit more ideas.

  40. Ruthie*

    Aha! A topic I’m a real expert at! I have a lot of random allergies that appear out of nowhere in the middle of the day. Mine are pervasive enough that prevention isn’t that effective and routine enough that reactions, while uncomfortable, just aren’t a big deal to me. What I find most helpful from my colleagues is basically when they ignore it. It’s not unusual for my eyes to start watering as if I’m crying during a conversation or swell closed. Sometimes over the course of a short meeting I’ll just visibly break out in hives. Or unintentionally start talking too loud because of pressure in my ears. I personally always appreciate it when others don’t let it sidetrack the discussion and we can just move on. And their patience while I rummage around for a Benadryl.

  41. Mao*

    Natures miracle makes allergen blocker wipes and other products. I’d research more before putting directly on skin, but clothes should be ok.

    Maybe this would help? Sorry if it was posted already, I don’t have time to go through all the comments

  42. Anne*

    There’s treatment for cat allergies. It’s about $1000, and consists of putting drops under your tongue every morning. Maybe your workplace should cover that?

  43. Tabby*

    Op I would love an update on this and a picture of the cat who is causing work problems (they are so good at that )

  44. Gadfly*

    So, for people who are saying antihistamines don’t help them, something you should know is there are two types of histamine receptors and things like Benadryl and Claritin only work on one type. The other type, the H2 receptors, also cause problems in an allergy situation and lead to hives and watery eyes and such. So if you have only taken the treatments for the H1 types you might want to look into the H2 ones.

    Now, the H2 ones are going to be off label use–they are usually stomach acid treatments. Prilosec, Zantac and similar.

    I discovered this a few years back when I was trying allergy shots and had a few bad (got to use my epi-pen) reactions. First time I suffered for a couple days with the hives and some other symptoms–Benadryl helped some. Second time, my husband was with me at the instacare pharmacy afterwords, and had just taken a class on it (RN) So he asked the pharmacist and they also had me take some generic Zantac. Everything cleared up and was fine. I stopped taking shots (I didn’t want to keep buying epi-pens, among other reasons) and haven’t had a reaction like that since, but I have also used it for smaller allergic responses.

    Obviously, talk to medical professionals and do your own research and don’t take it just because I said so here.

  45. nonegiven*

    My husband got sent to a doctor for a test. As soon as the guy walked into the room, he started sneezing, A. Lot. He apologized, I don’t know why I’m sneezing so much. DH says, you aren’t allergic to cats are you? DH is the cat whisperer, he can’t sit in a chair without 3 cats climbing into his lap. Oh yes I’m very allergic to cats. He quickly did the test and left.

    My doctor wants me to have the same test, now. I, said whatever you do , don’t send me to the guy that’s allergic to cats.

  46. Emoji pizza unicorn*

    What about a walking 1:1, where you walk around the block an discuss what you need to discuss? Weather permitting, obviously.

  47. rachel*

    I am very allergic to cats, and sometimes I also react to being around people who have cats, even if the cat isn’t there! I would say that you should ask him how to handle it. I dont like the phone idea, it seems like it is penalizing him. maybe you just need to vacuum your office. also, I am all about the walking meetings!

  48. LN*

    Leave some clothes that you’ll wash somewhere out of your house and wear only when you arrive at work. That way your pet’s protein won’t be attached to your clothes. Also think of washing your hands when you change clothes.

  49. AllergySufferer*

    Also, it has nothing to do with the hair you can see. There is microscopic dander suspended in the air of your home that sticks to you after you launder and lint roll your clothes. Once you leave the house that dander sticks to anything you come into contact with and sheds into the air in the environments you frequent like animals spread pollen. Just a tiny bit of this that floats your colleague’s way into the eye, ear, mouth or nose could become life threatening if yet another reaction triggers anafalaxis. You can try and million things but short of staying physically away there is no other solution. Meet by phone is a great solution!

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