For most Chicagoans, long winter months and cold temperatures are to be expected every year. What might not be expected are the allergies that come with that – yes, seasonal allergies exist outside of the typical spring and summer symptoms. Winter brings its own allergens waiting to stir up misery. Here are some common causes of winter allergies and what you need to know about them:
Winter Allergies or Cold?
Many people confuse winter allergies with a common cold because the symptoms are so similar, such as a cough, nasal drainage, sore throat, and fatigue. But there are some specific differences to keep an eye out for. A cold virus will usually cause you to feel body aches and pains and maybe a mild fever. These symptoms will only last from 2 to 14 days. Allergy symptoms however usually include watery or itchy eyes, something a cold virus does not. Your allergy symptoms will also last for months if not treated properly.
What Causes Winter Allergies?
During a long Midwest winter, people usually spend most of their time indoors away from the cold. Unfortunately, during this time a majority of the substances causing you to sneeze and cough are also located indoors. Common irritants are dust mites, mold and pet dander.
People allergic to dust mites can suffer the most inside their own homes. Symptoms from dust can be especially noticeable after any house cleaning like vacuuming, sweeping or dusting, where dust gets stirred up into the air.
Mold exists both inside and outside our homes. Moist places like kitchens and bathrooms are breeding grounds for this. You may keep your areas spotless and clean, but most mold isn’t visible to the human eye – the spores become airborne and reach you that way, triggering many reactions and asthma symptoms. Mold spores can cause more problems compared to typical pollen allergies because mold can grow nearly anywhere and just needs oxygen and moisture to survive. A commonly overlooked home for mold are Christmas trees and other decorations. It’s important that these are kept mold-free. An easy precaution is to spray your live tree with a garden hose before setting it up in your home and dust all decorations.
We all love our pets, but sadly our furry family members can also be the cause of many allergy symptoms. Even those without pets can still have constant symptoms because exposure doesn’t stop at home – pet-friendly stores, offices and restaurants and anywhere a pet owner has been can have allergens present.
Tips To Combat Winter Allergies
- Use exhaust fans while showering or cooking to remove all of the excess moisture everywhere.
- Wash your bedding weekly in hot water above 130 degrees to kill off dust mites.
Keep home humidity levels low. Install a humidifier or dehumidifier in damp areas (especially basements) to prevent mold and dust mite growth. You should aim for a humidity level between 30-40 percent.
Change the water and filters in humidifiers frequently. There will be manufacturer recommendations for each, and this ensures that they won’t become contaminated with mold and bacteria and defeat their own purpose.
Clean your floors with a HEPA filter vacuum. HEPA filters are 99.97 percent proficient in capturing dust mites and other allergens. If you can avoid carpet and install wood floors instead, that will also minimize these symptoms.
Consider installing a high-efficiency disposable filter with a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) in your HVAC system. The higher the MERV rating the better – you want between 11-13.
- Wear a mask during household cleaning. After cleaning, take a shower and rinse your nose our with saline solution to remove any potential mold spores.
Keep pets out of the bedroom. Your bedroom is the most crucial room in your house to prevent allergy triggers because of the amount of time you spend in there. Along with pets, remove any rugs and plants to avoid dust mites and mold.
Use allergenic barriers around your pillows and mattresses. These create a physical barrier between your nose and any dust mites.
And finally, wash your hands frequently. Any time you touch your pet, return from a public place, or do any cleaning, washing your hands with hot water will decrease the chance of exposure to allergens and winter viruses.
If you know you know your symptoms, or are still experiencing winter allergy symptoms after taking the above precautions, it may be time for you to consider seeking further treatment and getting allergy tested. Contact Premier Allergy to schedule an appointment and say good bye to winter allergies!