Winter Allergies: Causes and Treatment

Most people deal with seasonal allergies during the spring and summer when pollen is flying and grass is plentiful. But many people can also suffer from allergies during the winter months, always thinking they have a cold but really struggling to combat an environmental allergen. What causes winter allergies, and what can you do about them?

Causes

Winter allergies are most often caused by indoor allergens. Typically, indoor allergens are most likely to be one of the following:

  • Mold. Mold is traditionally linked to negative respiratory symptoms like coughing, a runny nose, and an itchy throat. Mold growth in your HVAC system can distribute spores once your furnace is on and blowing.
  • Dust. Dust mites are always active in the home, and you can notice symptoms from dust more during the winter because the air is generally dryer. 
  • Pest excrement. Mouse or cockroach droppings are common irritants. Many pests seek refuge in the home during winter months. 
  • Pet dander or hair. In summer, your dog may spend plenty of time outside, but he or she spends more time inside in winter. You could be sensitive to the increased exposure. 

Treatment

If you're struggling with winter allergies, there are a few things you can do to make it better.

  1. Have your HVAC system professionally cleaned, especially if you live in an older home with fewer filters and a history of pet ownership. 
  2. Plug in a humidifier. Allergies can seem worse in winter because the air is drier. Your nasal passage, which normally traps dust and other irritants before they can affect you, becomes dry and less effective. Nasal spray and steam treatments can also help. Just be sure to keep humidity levels in check. Too much moisture in the air is as bad as too little, as both mites and mold thrive in high-humidity environments.
  3. Wash your bedding frequently, and use hot water if possible. Your pillowcase and comforter can trap dust mites and mold spores, making allergy symptoms worse when you're trying to rest. Some high-efficiency washers don't use hot-water cycles, but hot water is the best for killing mites. Consider soaking your sheets in the bathtub in some very hot water before moving them to the washing machine if you don't have a hot wash option.
  4. Talk to your doctor about allergy medications. Some allergy medications are great for temporary relief, but they can make you drowsy, or they contain decongestants, which can further dry out your nose and mouth, which turns fighting your allergy into a vicious cycle. A doctor, such as one at Mid America Ear, Nose, & Throat Clinic PC, can advise you on the right dose and on how long and how often you should use antihistamines. 

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