There may not be pollen and ragweed in the air this time of year, but that doesn’t mean people who live with allergies can breathe easy. Allergies are often worse in the cold weather months because the windows are shut, the furnace is cranked, and people and their pets are spending a lot more quality time together indoors. With less ventilation in winter, it’s common for people with allergies to feel the effects, including sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, coughing and postnasal drip, and itchy eyes, nose and throat.
“Many children and adults find that their allergies flare up in the winter months because they are spending more time exposed to indoor allergens, including dust mites, mold spores or pet dander,” said Bruce Naughton, M.D., Medical Director for Medicare at Univera Healthcare. “Eliminating the source of the allergens is the most effective step in alleviating symptoms.”
Here are some tips to allergy-proof your home this winter.
Keep pets out of the bedroom. If you are allergic to animals, keep your pets out of your bedroom and away from carpeted areas. Bathe your pets often. If you are considering getting a pet, research short-haired or non-shedding varieties.
Control dust mites. These tiny bugs can be found in mattresses, pillows, cloth furniture, and carpets. Battle dust mites by covering mattresses and pillows with allergy-proof covers. Wash sheets, pillow cases and blankets weekly in hot water. Vacuum often with a vacuum that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filter. Use blinds as window treatments instead of curtains or drapes. Cut down on the number of stuffed animals in the kids’ bedrooms (or at least wash them frequently). And, if possible, replace carpeting with hardwood floors.
Stop mold growth. Mold grows in damp and moist areas. Prevent mold from growing by using an exhaust fan while showering; repairing water leaks in basements, inside walls and under sinks; and fixing leaking roofs or pipes. Put a dehumidifier in a damp basement but remember to drain the water collection tank often.
Stop cockroaches from moving in. Cockroach droppings are one of the most common winter allergy triggers, and a forced air heating system easily spreads them throughout the house. To help keep these annoying pests out of your home, store unrefrigerated food in closed containers; make sure your kitchen garbage is stored in a lidded can; and wipe down any area or plate where crumbs may gather. Don’t forget to keep pet food in sealed containers.
“Reactions to indoor allergens can linger for weeks or even months,” said Naughton. “If allergy-proofing your home isn’t effective and symptoms persist, speak with your physician.”
Treatments for wintertime allergies include:
- Antihistamines , which reduce sneezing, sniffling, and itching
- Decongestants , which clear mucus to relieve congestion and swelling
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots or under-the-tongue tablets), which expose your body to gradually bigger doses of the allergen. This approach can curb your symptoms for a longer period of time than allergy drugs.