5 Tips for Managing Winter Allergies
While most people associate allergies and allergic symptoms like sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes with warm, spring weather, the truth is some of the top allergy triggers are actually more common indoors than outdoors. Since most of us spend our winter months primarily inside, allergy trigger exposure and allergic symptoms are surprisingly common during the winter months. Here’s what you can do to help control winter allergies.
Mold and dust mites are two of the most common indoor allergens, and both thrive in high humidity. So aim to keep indoor humidity less than 50%. You can achieve a comfortable, safe environment by running exhaust fans when cooking, showering and bathing; sealing up cracks and crevices which allow moisture to enter the house; and using a humidifier or dehumidifier to maintain household humidity at 30 to 40%.
High-efficiency furnace filters, which you can find at hardware and home improvement stores, capture up to 30 times as many allergens as traditional furnace filters. They trap allergens like pet dander, molds, dust mites, and insect droppings, instead of recirculating the particles throughout your home. These filters are usually more expensive than traditional furnace filters, but they typically don’t have to be changed as often as the less expensive filters. (Depending on the type of filter you buy, a high-efficiency filter may only need to be changed every three months instead of monthly.)
You should also pay attention to the filters in your vacuum cleaner and humidifier. Change them as directed by the manufacturer. Filters lose their effectiveness when they are not changed frequently..
Regular vacuuming, wet mopping, laundering, and general cleanliness will go a long way toward decreasing allergen exposure and allergy symptoms. Vacuum your carpets at least weekly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter or micro filter bag. You also may want to wear a mask while vacuuming to decrease allergen exposure (or hire someone else to vacuum!). Wet mopping of linoleum, tile and wooden floors effectively removes dust, pet dander, molds, and insect droppings.
Put away food (including pet food) as soon as you’re done with it and regularly wipe down counters to keep cockroaches (and their droppings) at bay. Launder all bedding and night clothing in hot water (above 130 degrees F) weekly to kill allergy-causing dust mites. Use damp cloths instead of dry rags to dust shelves, screens, and other dust-collecting surfaces.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat. The best way to control or eliminate pet-associated allergies is to limit your exposure to animals. If you don’t have a pet of your own, you just need to be careful when visiting others who do have them. One option is to take an allergy pill before heading over. You might also suggest meeting at a location convenient to both of you to avoid having an allergic reaction.
If you (or a family member) are in love with the family dog, cat, hamster or guinea pig, the no-pets-in-the-house approach probably won’t work. What might work instead: creating a pet haven. Instead of allowing your pet free access to the house, create a dedicated space for your pet to eat, sleep and play. That area should not be in the bedroom of the person with allergies; it’s important to keep pets out of the bedroom and off common furniture and carpets. A tiled room, or one with linoleum-covered floor, is a better option.
It’s also a good idea to have a non-allergic person bathe the pet on a weekly basis to prevent accumulation of pet dander, urine and saliva—all of which are known to trigger allergies. Finally, encourage everyone to wash their hands after handling or playing with the family pet.
If you continue to experience troublesome allergy symptoms, it’s time to schedule a visit with your healthcare provider. Most primary care doctors treat allergies. If you have a severe case that does not improve with the measures above or with either over-the-counter or prescription allergy medicine, your doctor may refer you to an allergist-immunologist, a doctor who specializes in identifying and treating allergies. The doctor may recommend allergy testing to pinpoint the specific causes of your allergies.
Winter allergies don’t have to make you miserable. These simple steps can help you stay comfortable in the winter and the whole year through.