Allergy symptoms in winter

Understanding Winter Allergies

Can You Get Allergies in the Winter?

If you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, you might think you’re safe from allergens once the weather gets colder since there is less pollen in the air. However, it’s still possible for outdoor triggers, such as cedar and mold, to cause winter allergies.

What Causes Indoor Allergies During Winter?

Seasonal winter allergies also can be caused by indoor allergens, such as mold, dust mites and pet dander.

Dust Mites

Dust mites can be found everywhere – from your furnace and air filters, to your couch and bed. While there’s no getting rid of dust mites, there are ways to help manage your dust allergy. Beyond regularly vacuuming and washing your bedsheets in hot water, you also can run HEPA filters in the rooms you frequent most and replace your HVAC air filters.

Pet Dander

Pet dander and proteins from skin cells can cause an allergic reaction at any time of year, especially during the winter months when people spend more time indoors. If you think you have pet allergies, consult your allergist to confirm. When it comes to reducing your indoor allergies during winter, vacuuming can help reduce pet dander and other airborne allergens.

Winter Allergy Symptoms

When winter sets in and you feel less than your best, you might be tempted to blame your symptoms on the common cold. So how do you tell the difference between winter allergies and a cold? The answer is usually symptom duration. A cold typically lasts no longer than 10 days. Common winter allergies can hang around for weeks or months. If your symptoms last longer than a week, see a doctor.

How to Get Rid of Winter Allergies

Here are some things you can do to help minimize your symptoms if you have allergies in the winter:

  • Check firewood. Prevent mold from entering the house by brushing off firewood before bringing it in, and only bring in what you plan to immediately use.
  • Avoid smoke. Smoke can be tough on winter allergies. So, have your chimney cleaned each year and replace your fireplace screen with a fireplace door.
  • Wipe your feet. Clean your shoes before stepping inside so wet leaves and other potential winter-allergy carriers stay outside.
  • Be smart with storage. Store seasonal items in air-tight containers when not in use to help prevent dust and mold build-up.

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While you can treat seasonal allergies with allergy shots and medications, there are ways to lessen your exposure and potentially reduce the severity of the symptoms. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your exposure:

  • Wash your bedding regularly. The body is constantly shedding dead skin and by changing your sheets, you’ll have washed most of it away.
  • Use dust mite linen coverings on pillows and mattresses. This allergy blocking fabric will help you to breathe and rest well at night.
  • Vacuum carpet and floors frequently. In the winter you’re tracking around more dust and dander, so cleaning regularly will limit your exposure.
  • Bathe your furry friends and sweep up after them. Yes, even those lovable little guys shed — leaving you susceptible to allergy flares.
  • Clean off holiday decorations before putting them away for the year.
  • Dust your home 1-2 times a week to reduce the amount of dust build up.
  • Clean your humidifier according to the instructions (most require daily or every other day cleanings).
  • Replace air filters in your HVAC system.

Remember that every little proactive measure taken will help you to manage your winter allergies better than ever before.

If your symptoms become severe, you might consider talking with your physician about prescription or over the counter medications such as:

  • Antihistamines
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Nasal steroid spray
  • Long-term immunotherapy treatment (usually administered in an Allergy Clinic)

Even if you find yourself down and out with wintertime allergies, there are many treatment options that will help you remain in the holiday spirit. Still have questions about managing your winter allergies? Schedule a visit with your primary care doctor.

Those with seasonal allergies might breathe a sigh of relief when the grass and trees go dormant for the season. But unfortunately, colder weather doesn’t spell relief for everyone.

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Allergist Sandra Hong, MD, says being cooped up in the house can actually make matters worse for people with indoor allergies for three main reasons:

  1. Dust mites. “Dust mites can actually end up being in your pillows, your mattress, your box-springs, your carpeting,” Dr. Hong says. “And if you have a humidifier going at greater than 50 percent humidity, that will actually make dust mites grow faster so you’ll have a lot more of them.” People with dust mite allergies typically wake up in the morning feeling stuffy because they’ve been sleeping on a surface to which they’re allergic all night long. Use dust mite covers on your pillows, mattresses and box-springs and wash your linens (and stuffed animals) in hot water (over 130 degrees) and dry on hot heat.
  2. Molds. Molds are parasitic, tiny fungi (like Penicillium) with spores that float in the air like pollen. And they can be troublesome this time of year. Dr. Hong recommends cleaning areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements with a bleach solution to keep them dry and mold-free.
  3. Pets (sorry!) Because our pets tend to spend more time indoors with us during colder months, Dr. Hong says winter simply increases our exposure to them. Not allowing your pets in the bedroom (at all!) and keeping them in areas that aren’t carpeted can help cut down on allergy symptoms. Bathing pets weekly and brushing them outside is also beneficial, in addition to a lot of vacuuming.

Prevention

You can’t prevent an allergy. But if you know you’re allergic, you can take steps to avoid a reaction. Use these tips:

  • Throw out shower curtains, wallpaper, and carpeting that have mold.
  • Wash showers and sinks with a solution containing 5% bleach and a little detergent.
  • To help control dust mites and mold, use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity in your home below 50%.
  • Use a HEPA air filter to clean dust from the air.
  • Wash bedding in hot water (130 F) each week.
  • Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, pillows, and comforters.

If someone in your household is allergic to pet dander and you really want a pet, the best choices are animals without fur, such as fish. If you already have a cat or dog, don’t let it sleep in your bedroom, and give it a bath at least once a week.

Also, during the winter holidays:

  • Consider an artificial Christmas tree. Live ones can have chemicals and mold on them.
  • Wash dust off of ornaments before you hang them.
  • Buy glass or plastic ornaments rather than fabric, which can collect more dust.

If you have a pet allergy and you’ll be visiting people who have cats or dogs, take your allergy medication with you and keep up with your immunotherapy before you go. Bring your own pillow with you, too.

Can’t Shake that Winter Cold? It May be Winter Allergies

Fever. The first tell-tale sign is an elevated temperature. Grab the thermometer or temperature scanner and take a reading. A cold will cause a very mild fever. The flu will cause a high fever. Allergies will never cause a fever. Got a fever? Then you don’t have allergies. If you don’t have a fever, then you may have allergies.

Symptom Onset. Another difference between winter allergies and winter colds is the on-set of symptoms. Allergy and flu symptoms come on suddenly. One minute you are fine and within an hour you are not. Cold symptoms come on over the course of several days.

Duration. The duration of symptoms is different between colds, allergies and the flu. Winter colds will last anywhere from 7 to 10 days, whether you treat symptoms or not. After that period of time, your symptoms are on the run. The symptoms of the flu last longer and even after the fever and sore throat are gone you can feel weak for weeks.

Allergy symptoms will not go away until you remove the offending allergen or stop the action of the histamines and leukotrienes. If you’ve had symptoms for weeks, it is probably allergies.

Common Winter Allergens

People think allergies and they think spring or fall hayfever. It’s true that plants are the major source of outdoor allergens in the warmer months, but indoor allergens are the real culprits in winter. Doors and windows are closed, reducing fresh air and increasing allergen levels.

Dust Mites. Dust mites are the prime source of indoor allergens. They are microscopic insects related to spiders. They feed off shed skin cells and their body and feces contain highly potent allergens. Dust mites live where it is dark and warm. They love spaces filled with fibers that hold food and moisture as well as providing hiding spaces. This describes your bed and bedding perfectly. In addition, their allergens collect in rugs, carpets, and upholstered furniture.

Molds. Mold can be a real problem in the winter. Basements, cellars, and crawlspaces provide the moisture, food, and darkness that mold loves. To add insult to injury, many heating systems are located in these mold filled areas and an improperly fitted filter can allow mold to be drawn into the system and spread throughout the house.

An often-overlooked source of mold is the humidifier. If you use humidifiers to make dry, heated air more comfortable the machines can be a literal hotspot for mold colonies.

Pet Dander. Household pets spend more time indoors in the winter months. You may not realize you are allergic to your pets if they spend most of their time outside in warmer weather. Once it gets chilly and kitty comes in and sits with you on the couch your exposure level increases. Not only are you more exposed to the pet, but the pet is spreading allergens throughout the house.

Pet allergies are caused by a protein in the saliva and urine and each time the pet grooms empty its bladder or give you a “kiss” it is spreading this protein. The more time you spend in close contact with your pet in a closed environment the more likely you are to have allergy symptoms.

Keep Winter Allergies in Check

Control your winter allergies by controlling the allergens in your house. It’s not hard, just change up your cleaning routine. You may find that lingering cold was allergies all along.

Check the Bedroom. Start with the bedroom. Make sure you wash sheets, pillowcases, and blankets in 140° water each week. Can’t get water that hot or don’t want to cook your linens? Wash with De-Mite Laundry Additive to get rid of dust mites from bed linens. Make sure your duvet, mattress, and pillows are encased in dust mite proof covers. These zippered covers trap in allergens so you get a good night’s sleep.

Check the Basement. Add fans to the basement or cellar to increase air circulation. Spray Vital Oxide to kill mold and mildew and keep musty odors in check. Make sure your heater filter fits properly so that air does not leak around the filter. Check that the heater plenum area is well sealed as well.

Check Furnishings. If you’ve got a good HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner, use it more often to remove pet allergens, mold spores, and dust mite allergens from carpets and upholstered furniture. If your vacuum doesn’t have a HEPA filter or if you have a bagless vacuum, then don’t vacuum as often. A bad vacuum just makes the indoor environment worse.

Use anti-allergen sprays like ADMS Dust Mite Spray on rugs, carpets, draperies, and upholstered furniture. These anti-allergen sprays will break down the allergy-causing proteins from dust mites, molds, and pets that collect on any surface you can’t wash in hot water. It won’t stain and doesn’t contain any dye, fragrance or masking fragrance so it won’t pollute your indoor air.

Don’t forget to clean humidifiers at least weekly to remove bacteria and molds. A rinse with an antimicrobial can help keep mold at bay.

Check Pets. Safely remove allergens from pets by wiping them down weekly with an Allerpet solution. Allerpet cleanses and conditions the coat as it safely denatures the allergens. Your pet will look better and you will breathe better.

Control your winter allergies by controlling the allergens in your home and office by using the right allergy relief products. You may find that lingering cold was allergies all along and your kids had nothing to do with it.

Wishing you the best of health,

The Allergy Store

Allergy elimination is about eliminating the allergy-causing substance in your home the best you can. Once you do this, you may be able to eliminate the need for all the medications and doctor visits.

8 Tips to Tame Winter Allergies

Whether it’s summer, spring, or winter allergies stuffing you up, you can do a lot to manage — or prevent — allergy symptoms, including:

  • Avoid Allergens. The first and best treatment for winter allergies is to avoid what you’re allergic to, says Cohen. For example, stay indoors when the wind is whipping up damp leaves in the yard, and keep indoor allergens to a minimum by mopping, sweeping, and dusting often.
  • Wash Away Allergens. Washing your hands and face frequently reduces the number of allergens you carry — and spread. When allergy symptoms are intense, take a shower; it removes allergens from your hair and encourages you to change the clothes that allergens may be clinging to. A bonus: The steam of a hot bath or shower may relieve allergy symptoms like sinus congestion.
  • Wash Bedding Often. Most bedrooms are havens for pet dander and dust mites. You can keep these and other allergens down by washing your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets in hot water, suggests Chiu. A weekly wash is great, but twice a month is fine, too.
  • And Get Better Bedding. Look for bedding that’s specially designed to be less permeable to allergens like dust mites. You can start your search online with the term “allergy bedding.”
  • Try a Saline Solution. Irrigation with saltwater is a great home remedy to relieve the nasal congestion that may be part and parcel of winter allergies. Look for saline at most drugstores, or make your own by mixing in a squirt bottle one teaspoon of non-iodized salt to eight ounces of water.
  • Get More Moisture. When you’re blowing your nose all the time and the thermostat is cranked up, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Pump up the fluids by carrying around a water bottle, eating more water-rich fruits and veggies, or enjoying hot tea. A side benefit to hot drinks: their steam may reduce nasal congestion.
  • The Air Needs Moisture, Too. It’s an indoor balancing act: Too little moisture in the air may irritate nose and throat; too much encourages mold and mildew growth. Costing as little as $5, a hygrometer — a humidity monitor — can help you track the moisture in your house and adjust with a humidifier/dehumidifier accordingly. Aim for humidity no lower than 30% and no higher than 50%, suggests Chiu.
  • Take Allergy Medication. Allergy meds can relieve symptoms like itchy eyes and nasal congestion, yet over-the-counter or prescription drugs won’t do you much good if you don’t use them right. Managing winter allergies is easier if you take medication before symptoms appear, and if you remember that taking more medicine doesn’t lead to fewer symptoms. Follow label directions carefully and you should get the relief you crave.

You’re not alone with winter allergies. More than 40 million Americans are allergy-prone year-round. If you aren’t getting the relief you need with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medication, it may be time to talk to an allergist.

How can I reduce symptoms from my winter allergies?

Ask the doctors

Published: December, 2019

Q. I have terrible allergies every winter. What can I do to make them more tolerable this year?

A. Unlike fall or spring allergies, which are often responses to outdoor allergens, such as pollen or ragweed, most winter allergies are triggered by substances inside your home. Common indoor allergens include dust mites, mold, and pet dander, and they can prompt a host of symptoms, from a runny nose and sneezing to a sore throat and itchy eyes. While these indoor allergens are present year-round, allergies can flare up in the winter because you’re cooped up in the house with the windows closed. Your home’s furnace may also be circulating these substances through the air once the heat kicks on.

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Is it a cold or winter allergy?

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If your “common cold” has been hanging around for more than a week, it may not be a cold at all. It might actually be an allergy disguised as a cold.

Dr. Stanley Goldstein, director of Allergy and Asthma Care of Long Island, N.Y., said fall and winter allergies are just as common as spring and summer allergies. What’s different about the allergies this time of year, he added, is that most people simply don’t know they have them.

“These just don’t bring patients out of the woodwork, complaining because many of them are just living with them,” Goldstein said. “If you walk around congested very early in life, you don’t realize what it means to feel normal.”

Or many people may simply think that they’re getting a cold — over and over and over again, said Tonya Winders, president and chief executive officer of the Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, based in Virginia.

“The most confusing aspect of telling the difference is that the symptoms are so similar,” Winders said.

Airborne allergies and common colds both can produce coughs, sneezing, a stuffy nose and a runny nose, she said.

But there are a few differences.

A cold should last less than seven to 10 days, while seasonal allergies tend to last through the entire season. The allergy usually will start at the onset of the season, while the cold could begin at any time, Winders said.

Other ways to tell them apart would be that a cold may start with a sore throat and may be accompanied by a low-grade fever or body aches, while recurrent “colds” that aren’t associated with a fever would be allergies, said Dr. Cristina Porch-Curren, allergist with Coastal Allergy Care in California.

Itchy eyes or an itchy nose — or both — also would be hints that the ailment actually may be an allergy, said Dr. Timothy Craig, professor of medicine and pediatrics at Penn State University College of Medicine.

“Thus seasonal distribution, sneezing and itchy eyes often point toward allergies,” Craig said.

Winders suggests seeing a primary care physician who can point you in the right direction, and if over-the-counter allergy medications don’t work, then an allergist can do a full work-up to figure out exactly which allergies are triggering a reaction.

Even those who haven’t had allergies in the past could be subject to new fall or winter allergies, Winders said.

“We know that allergies change and develop over time because they’re driven by exposure, so you have to be exposed to the allergen more than one time to have that allergy,” she said.

Hormones or relocation also can play a role in later allergy onsets that cause more than 50 million Americans to suffer from some form of allergies, and that number has been increasing since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the fall, the most common allergy is hay fever, which is caused by ragweed, while winter allergies tend to be to mold, dust, mites and animals because people spend more time inside in small spaces, Winders said, adding that these allergies are more common in the parts of the U.S. that have more dramatic seasonal differentials, such as the Northeast and Midwest.

“Where there’s a very significant fall and a defined winter, you’ll see more seasonal allergies,” Winders said.

Winter allergies: The allergies you didn’t know you could have

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL (November 26, 2018) – When temperatures get below freezing, people with seasonal allergies to grass, tree and weed pollens get well-deserved relief from their symptoms. But if you’re still sneezing and blowing your nose when winter descends, you might have indoor allergies.

The problem for many allergy sufferers is figuring out what, exactly, is causing their symptoms. “Most allergy sufferers develop similar symptoms no matter what allergen they’re reacting to,” says allergist Todd Mahr, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “When you have a stuffy or runny nose, itchy, watery eyes or sneezing and coughing you know you’re probably allergic to something. And if it’s serious enough to prompt a trip to the doctor for relief, see an allergist.”

Here are some common causes of winter, indoor allergies and tips from ACAAI on what you can do about them:

Dust mite allergy: Dust mites are one of the most common indoor allergens and a year-round annoyance. Those allergic to dust mites suffer most in their own homes. Often, you’ll notice your symptoms immediately after vacuuming, sweeping or dusting, when you’ve stirred up dust. Molds, pollen, pet hair, fur or feathers can also contribute to a dust allergy.

You can lessen or avoid your symptoms by removing items that cause dust allergies. Choose wood floors instead of carpet, clean your house with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, use mite-proof cases on your mattresses and pillows and wash your linens regularly in hot water. Consider installing a high-efficiency disposable filter in your HVAC system. The filter should have a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 11 to 13 — the higher the MERV rating the better.

Mold allergy: Molds live inside and outside your home. They thrive in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens, and unfortunately, many molds aren’t visible to the naked eye. As the spores become airborne, they can cause allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms.

Wear a mask when doing yard work, and once inside, take a shower and rinse your nose with a saline solution to remove mold spores. In the kitchen, clean up any spills or leaks quickly to prevent mold from growing. Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in areas like bathrooms and basements. Clean your garbage cans and fridge drawers. For serious mold problems, call a professional.

Pet allergy: It’s a heartbreaking situation for pet lovers if they have allergy symptoms after being with their pets. Allergy symptoms can be constant because exposure can occur anywhere — in pet-friendly workplaces, restaurants and stores, at school, in daycare, anywhere a pet owner has been.

Avoidance is the best way to manage a pet allergy, but you don’t have to part with your furry family members. Keep your pet out of your bedroom, wash your hands with soap and water after petting or playing with your pet, vacuum with a HEPA vacuum and bath your pet once a week.

Once you know the cause of your symptoms, you can take control of your allergies and asthma and start enjoying life again. To find an allergist in your area, use the Allergist Locator tool on the ACAAI website.

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