Article by email@example.com (MK Manoylov) for Insider©
© PeopleImages/Getty Images
During winter, low temperatures halt pollen-producing plants and spore-sprouting fungi that usually trigger spring, summer, and fall allergies. But, you might still find yourself having allergy symptoms during the winter.
This is because the cold temperatures of winter cause people to spend most of their time indoors, which can expose them to higher levels of indoor allergens, says Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, MD, an associate professor of allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center.
What causes winter allergies?
Some of the most common causes of indoor winter allergies are animal dander (dead skin) from pets, dust mites, and indoor mold.
About three in 10 people in the US have allergic reactions to cats or dogs, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Specifically, the dander, saliva, and urine from cats and dogs can trigger the body’s immune system and cause allergy symptoms. Since it’s cold outside, pets tend to remain indoors, which can worsen your allergic reactions.
Mold and mildew are another prevalent indoor allergen. Both of these types of fungi grow around moist areas, such as leaky roofs, doors, vents, and heating or cooling systems.
A few common household items that mold can grow on include:
- Ceiling tiles
Allergic rhinitis from indoor mold and dampness costs nearly $3.7 billion in health care expenses annually, according to a 2016 study. “This tends to be more of a problem in old buildings with less ventilation in the large cities and colder areas,” says Mahdavinia.
Dust mites can also trigger allergies. These microscopic arthropods are one-third the size of a millimeter, so you won’t be able to see them in your home. Dust mites tend to locate themselves in warm, humid houses and reside in bedding, carpets, stuffed toys, or the inner layers of upholstered furniture, like couches.
Mahdavinia says that cockroaches and mice can also trigger allergy symptoms, especially in urban areas. In fact, about 63% of US homes contain cockroach allergens, and that number increases to about 78% to 98% of living areas in urban areas. People can be allergic to the cockroaches’ saliva, feces, and shed body parts.
Winter allergy symptoms
Indoor allergens from pet dander, dust mites, and mold can trigger the following allergy symptoms:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
Allergy symptoms like a runny nose, cough, and headache can appear like cold or flu symptoms, especially in the winter, during the peak of flu season.
However, these symptoms differ in these key ways, says Matthew Ellison, MD, an assistant professor of head and neck surgery at Duke University:
- Color of nasal discharge. The mucus produced during allergies tends to be white, Ellison says. Nasal discharge during a cold or flu tends to be yellow or white. “Colds, whether it’s viral or bacterial, tend to have more of a discolored mucus — more cloudy or yellow — whereas with allergies it tends to be clear,” Ellison says.
- Bodily symptoms. Fevers and chills tend to accompany colds and flu more so than allergies, Ellison says.
- Length of symptoms. Allergy symptoms will clear up in about 12 hours, unless you’re continuously exposed to the allergen, like with pet dander. Cold and flu symptoms will last three days or longer, and should resolve after a week.
How to treat winter allergies
Ellison says one of the best ways to treat winter allergies is to avoid exposing yourself to allergens. Here’s what you can do during the winter to clear up indoor allergens.
- Get dust mite covers if you’re allergic to dust. These are zippered covers that go over the mattress. They have pores too small to let dust mites enter your mattress or box spring, reducing the prevalence of dust mites when you sleep. You can also wash your sheets every one to two weeks in hot water to kill any dust mites.
- Vacuum the house frequently to remove pet dander. If vacuuming yourself spurs allergy symptoms, try having someone else do it.
- Change your home’s air filters frequently to improve indoor air quality. Those who have allergies will want to change air filters every 20 to 45 days, according to the Center for Allergy and Asthma of Georgia. Also Check your furnace, heating, and ventilation systems to make sure there’s no moisture that could feed mold.
- Get a portable air purifier. Air purifiers can be used when you can’t get rid of an indoor allergen source. They can reduce the severity of allergens like pet dander, dust, mold, and pollen and help those with allergies breathe better indoors.
- Use a HEPA filter in your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units, or with your air purifiers. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy. A HEPA filter can remove at least 99.97% of pollen, mold, dust, bacteria, and any other airborne particle bigger than 0.3 microns.
If you still need relief from winter allergens, you could use non-sedative antihistamines like Claratin to reduce the body’s allergy response.
You could also use saline nasal sprays to help breathe better through your nose. Just make sure you don’t use saline sprays with decongestants for more than three days, as Ellison says it could cause problems in the nose.