If your nose is runny and stuffy, your eyes are itchy and red, you feel congested and tired, you may not necessarily have a cold. This could be due to a winter allergy.
Most of us think of the warmer months of the year as the time when allergies peak. When the trees and flowers are blooming, birds are singing and the air is full of pollen, allergens are plentiful. While it is true that many people only experience allergy symptoms during the warmer months of the year, many individuals have winter allergies too.
Causes of Winter Allergies
The most common cause of winter allergies are dust mites, pet dander, mold and mildew. For those in urban areas, cockroaches can be a major allergen. For those in both urban and suburban/rural areas, mouse allergy is also common. During the winter months, when we settle indoors, close the windows and turn on the furnace, exposure to these indoor allergens spike.
Common Culprits: Mites, Pets and Mold
Dust mites are microscopic insect-like organisms that flourish in mattresses, pillows, bedding, carpets and upholstered furniture. When dust mite allergy particles become airborne as we move around the house or spend time in bed at night, they can trigger allergy symptoms.
Household pets such as cats and dogs, as well as uninvited guests such as mice and cockroaches, are also common allergens. Most individuals are not allergic to animal fur, but rather to a protein found in the pet dander, saliva and urine.
Mold thrives in damp humid areas such as basements and bathrooms. Cut firewood and plants can easily become havens for mold spores.
Is it Allergy or the Cold/Flu?
Common allergy symptoms include a watery nasal discharge, nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes and itching of the eyes and nose. How can you tell whether your symptoms are from a cold, the flu or allergies? A cold usually doesn’t last for more than 10 days. Colds and flu often have associated muscle aches/pains and fever. Allergies can linger for weeks or months.
Treatment for Winter Allergies
There are three treatment options for winter allergies:
- Avoid the cause(s) of the allergic reaction - often easier said than done.
- Allergy medication, which can include nose sprays, allergy tablets and/or eye drops.
- Immunotherapy, which now includes traditional allergy shots as well as under the tongue dissolvable tablets or drops. Immunotherapy is designed to make you less allergic, which is fundamentally different from avoidance and medication whose purpose is to minimize symptoms.
Common Allergy Avoidance Strategies
Here are a few ways to help you avoid the causes of winter allergies:
- For dust mite allergy, encase the mattress and pillows in tightly woven allergy barrier encasements designed to trap the dust mite allergy particles so you don’t inhale these allergy particles while sleeping. Bedding can become a reservoir for dust mites; so weekly warm or hot water washing is advised. Removing carpeting and avoiding upholstered furniture may also provide relief.
- For those with cat or dog allergy, the most effective solution is to find a new home for your pet. Giving away your pet or keeping it outdoors is not always desirable, or doable. So, at a minimum, excluding the pet from the bedroom area and utilizing a HEPA air filter in the bedroom may provide some benefit.
- To minimize mold exposure, don’t store cut firewood indoors, reduce the number of plants in your house and address any water leaks or areas of dampness.
If your symptoms are ongoing and annoying enough to interfere with work, play or sleep, a visit to an allergy specialist might be in order. A board certified allergy specialist at Advanced Allergy & Asthma Care can provide treatment for food and skin allergies nasal allergies, eye allergies, sinus infections and asthma. Additionally, we treat insect stings and medication allergies. We have locations throughout Fairfield County, CT with offices in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk and Ridgefield.