Feeling the sting of allergies more sharply than usual this season?
Winter allergy symptoms are really just your run-of-the-mill seasonal allergy symptoms. But because of the colder and harsher weather typical of the winter season, you’re more likely to spend more time indoors and increase your exposure to indoor allergens.
Some of the most common indoor allergens that can trigger your winter allergies include:
- airborne dust particles
- dust mites
- pet dander (skin flakes that carry proteins)
- cockroach droppings
The best way to relieve allergy symptoms is to take preventive measures. But you can still get relief for your allergy symptoms even if your symptoms are already at their worst.
Read on for some tips on what indoor allergens to watch out for, what symptoms you might experience, what you can do to treat and prevent allergy symptoms, and more — including how to tell the difference between winter allergies and a cold.
There are a variety of indoor allergens that can trigger symptoms during the winter, especially when the weather’s damp and you spend more of your time indoors because of poor weather conditions.
Here are some of the most common indoor allergens to keep in mind:
|Allergen||Where’s it found?||Why is it common?||What makes it worse?|
|Dust mites||Bedding, furniture, and carpets||Dust mites live in warm, damp environments, and their dead bodies and poop can get into household dust.||Using indoor heating and not regularly washing bedding|
|Pet dander||Almost any indoor surface: beds, carpets, and upholstery||Pet dander from dogs or cats can get into household dust and stick to many surfaces indoors, increasing your chances of exposure.||Pets spending more time inside, especially in bedrooms or living rooms|
|Mold||Dark, moist areas like bathrooms, basements, and under sinks||Damp weather can promote mold growth.||Humidifiers, leaky pipes or faucets|
|Dark, moist areas, especially kitchen cupboards, under sinks, or behind appliances||Damp weather can drive roaches indoors.||Leaving out food or crumbs|
Here are the telltale signs of allergy symptoms:
- stuffy/runny nose
- itchy eyes
- throat itching
- ear itching
- difficulty breathing, especially through a clogged nose
- dry coughing, sometimes producing phlegm
- skin rash
- feeling sick
- low-grade fever
Severe allergies can also lead to more disruptive symptoms related to asthma, such as:
Allergies and colds have much different sources. Colds result from a virus that’s spread by someone who’s already infected. Allergies result from your body’s release of histamine that creates an inflammatory response to allergens or other irritants.
A cold also ends once your body fights off the infection. Allergies can happen anytime you’re exposed to allergens that get into your respiratory tract. Symptoms last as long as you keep breathing in the allergens.
Here’s the detailed breakdown:
|Lasts several days|
up to two weeks
|Lasts several days |
to months or longer
|Can happen anytime during the year |
(but more common in winter and spring)
|Can happen anytime |
during the year
|Symptoms appear a |
few days after infection
|Symptoms appear right|
after exposure to allergens
|Can cause body aches|
|No body aches or fever|
|Causes a cough, runny nose,|
|Causes a cough, itchy eyes,|
runny nose, and stuffiness
|Usually causes a sore throat||Sore throat not common|
|Doesn’t cause eye |
watering and itching
|Often causes eye |
watering and itching
Allergy symptoms can be easily treated at home, but can also benefit from long-term clinical treatments. Here are some of your options:
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication. Antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra), can relieve symptoms effectively when taken regularly. OTC medications with acetaminophen (Tylenol), such as Zyrtec-D, can help with related symptoms like headaches.
- Use a neti pot or nasal irrigation treatment. These treatments work by sending clean, distilled water through your nasal passages to clear out allergens.
- Use nasal sprays. Prescription-strength steroid nasal sprays, such as fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort), can help relieve inflammation and other symptoms like a runny nose. These can now be purchased over the counter.
- Get allergy shots (immunotherapy). For severe, chronic allergy symptoms, ask your doctor about allergy shots. These work by exposing you to very small amounts of your allergens regularly to build up your body’s immunity to them. This leads to much less severe symptoms over the course of several years.
Try the following to minimize your exposure to indoor allergens common during the winter:
- Put special protective casing over your bedding, including your pillows and mattresses, to keep dust mites out.
- Regularly wash your clothes, bedding, and any removable upholstery covers in hot water to reduce dander and dust mite build-up.
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in your indoor air. An ideal humidity level is around 30 to 50 percent.
- Regularly vacuum your home. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove the majority of the allergen particles from most surfaces.
- Take out carpeting and replace it with linoleum, tile, or wood.
- Clean any areas with mold growth with water and a 5 percent bleach solution.
- Clean up any leftovers or crumbs in your kitchen or dining area after you or your pets eat.
- Fix any leaks in your bathroom, basement, roof, or pipes to stop moisture from building up and creating an environment for dust mites, mold, or roaches to thrive.
- Seal cracks or openings in your doors, windows, or walls where roaches can get in or outdoor air can blow in.
- Limit the time your pets spend indoors. If it’s not possible for them to stay outside, keep them out of places you spend a lot of time, such as your bedroom, living room, or kitchen.
Winter allergies are essentially the same as seasonal allergies in terms of symptoms. They include:
- runny or stuffy nose
Taking allergy medication, cleaning out your nose and sinuses, or taking preventive measures can all help reduce your symptoms as you spend more time indoors during the winter.
See your doctor to ask about allergy shots if allergy symptoms don’t get better with treatment, last for a few weeks or more, or interrupt your daily lifestyle.
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