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Winter Allergies


Submitted by ENT Clinic of Iowa

Those of us with allergies always look forward to the first hard freeze and winter for allergies to go away. But, think again. 

The temperature drops, the wind picks up, and like clockwork you’re sniffing and sneezing again. Great, you’ve got another cold — or is it winter allergies, instead? 

You’re not alone with winter allergies. More than 40 million Americans are allergy-prone year-round.

It hardly seems fair, but if you’re prone to summer allergies, chances are you’re at risk for allergies when the weather turns cold, too.

The reason is simple: many of those warm-weather irritants are around all year, like pet dander, mold, and mildew. Once you settle indoors for the chilly holiday season — the windows closed, the heater on — your exposure to these allergens spikes. Winter can actually intensify your allergy triggers, including the following:

  • Pet dander: Because cold weather means pets are indoors more often, your exposure to dander escalates in the winter months, leading to a corresponding surge in symptoms.
  • Mold and mildew: Decaying leaves and other yard waste gives mold and mildew an ideal breeding ground. Shoes and clothes then provide these damp, clingy irritants with an easy way inside.
  • Temperate climates: Milder climates — where there are few or no frosts or hard freezes — means the year-round presence of allergens like pollen, year-round symptoms for people living there, or an increase in allergy symptoms for those traveling to warmer climates in the winter.
  • Damp wood: Cut wood stored outside easily becomes a moist haven for mold spores. Bring the wood inside for even brief storage and you’ve invited in a classic allergy trigger.

8 tips to tame winter allergies

Whether its summer, spring, or winter allergies stuffing you up, you can do a lot to manage — or prevent — allergy symptoms, including the following:

  • Avoid allergens. The first and best treatment for winter allergies is to avoid what you’re allergic to. For example, stay indoors when the wind is whipping up damp leaves in the yard, and keep indoor allergens to a minimum by mopping, sweeping, and dusting often.
  • Wash away allergens. Washing your hands and face frequently reduces the number of allergens you carry and spread. When allergy symptoms are intense, take a shower; it removes allergens from your hair and encourages you to change the clothes that allergens may be clinging to. A bonus: The steam of a hot bath or shower may relieve allergy symptoms like sinus congestion.
  • Wash bedding often. Most bedrooms are havens for pet dander and dust mites. You can keep these and other allergens down by washing your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets in hot water. A weekly wash is great, but twice a month is fine, too.
  • Get better bedding. Look for bedding that’s specially designed to be less permeable to allergens like dust mites. You can start your search online with the term “allergy bedding.”
  • Try a saline solution. Irrigation with saltwater is a great home remedy to relieve the nasal congestion that may be part and parcel of winter allergies. Look for saline at most drugstores.
  • Get more moisture. When you’re blowing your nose all the time and the thermostat is cranked up, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Pump up the fluids by carrying around a water bottle, eating more water-rich fruits and veggies, or enjoying hot tea. A side benefit to hot drinks: their steam may reduce nasal congestion.
  • The air needs moisture, too. It’s an indoor balancing act: too little moisture in the air may irritate the nose and throat; too much encourages mold and mildew growth. Costing as little as $5, a hygrometer — a humidity monitor — can help you track the moisture in your house and adjust with a humidifier/dehumidifier accordingly. Aim for humidity no lower than 30 percent and no higher than 50 percent.
  • Take allergy medication. Allergy meds can relieve symptoms like itchy eyes and nasal congestion, yet over-the-counter or prescription drugs won’t do you much good if you don’t use them right. Managing winter allergies is easier if you take medication before symptoms appear and if you remember that taking more medicine doesn’t lead to fewer symptoms. Follow label directions carefully and you should get the relief you crave.

You’re not alone with winter allergies. More than 40 million Americans are allergy-prone year-round. If you aren’t getting the relief you need with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medication, it may be time to talk to an allergist. For more information on this and other sinus and allergy problems you can contact Douglas Hoisington D.O., FACS at ENT Clinic of Iowa, 1931 10th Ave East, Milan, 309-558-0992.