Provided by: Michael Goodman, MD
As we move from fall to winter, many allergy sufferers will experience relief as plant pollens have gone away and mold spore counts drop. However, many allergy sufferers can actually experience an increase in symptoms. During the late fall and winter our exposure to other allergens, often less obvious allergens, can increase.
Causes of Winter Allergy Symptoms
Much of the increase comes from spending more time indoors. For people with pets, both you and your pet spend more time indoors. This leads to more exposure to their dander and an increase in symptoms. Our exposure to dust mites, a very common allergen, also increases in the winter. During cold months, we do not open our windows and doors as much, reducing the amount of air exchange occurring. We bring out clothes and holiday decorations that have been accumulating dust and potentially mold. Symptoms can also be magnified by nonallergic factors. When we begin to use heat in our homes, the air can become very dry. The dry air irritates our nose and eyes and can increase inflammation that results in feelings of congestion and eye irritation.
What Can Help?
There are steps you can take to help reduce your symptoms. Keep humidity between 40-50%. Above 50% leads to increases in dust mites and indoor mold growth. Below 40% can contribute to drying of your mucosal surfaces and irritation. If you use a humidifier, check regularly to ensure no mold growth occurs inside the humidifier. Cool mist humidifiers with an ultrasonic membrane should be checked regularly for mineral deposits that can become vaporized and irritate our lungs. Dust mite encasements can be used on mattresses, box springs, and pillows to reduce our exposure while in bed. Washing sheets and blankets once a week also helps in reducing exposure. HEPA air filters can help remove pet dander, dust mite allergen, and mold spores that find their way into the air. Saline nasal spray or moisturizing nasal gels can help soothe the nasal mucosa and reduce inflammation. Before wearing clothes that have been in storage for months, try to wash them to remove allergens. Wear a dust mask when bringing out old decorations. Try to store decorations in a cool dry area in covered containers to protect them from mold and dust. Regularly vacuuming your living space to remove dust can also be helpful, but be careful, as it can also pull allergen off of surfaces and spray them into the air. Using a vacuum with a HEPA air filter, wearing a dust mask, and running an air filter while cleaning can help.
The allergy team at Ohio ENT and Allergy Physicians can help determine what you are allergic to. We can provide guidance on reducing exposures and will work with you to create an effective treatment strategy customized to your situation and goals.