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Winter Allergies

If you are in the Salt Lake City Utah area and you can schedule an allergy doctor appointment or contact us with any of your allergy related questions.

Pollen season may be over, but keep on the watch for winter allergies. If you’ve got cold symptoms that last longer than 10 days, allergies might be the culprit. House dust, mold, pet dander—these allergies may flare up as you spend more time indoors with your windows shut and your furnace cranked up.

Got a cold that won’t go away?

Many winter allergies masquerade as lingering winter colds. Often, people suffer through winter without knowing why they always seem to be sniffling. The symptoms of colds and allergies are very similar—runny nose, fatigue, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, sinus and nasal congestion.

The main difference between colds and allergies lies with how long the symptoms last. Colds run their course in 7-10 days. Allergy symptoms will last as long as you are exposed to them, sometimes improving somewhat in the spring and summer when air quality indoors improves.

Is it a Cold or Allergies?

If you have a cold:

  1. You gradually come down with it; it takes a few days before you’re at the worst
  2. You may also have body aches
  3. You may have a mild fever
  4. You will get better within 7-10 days
  5. Symptoms are caused by a virus

If you have indoor allergies:

  1. You feel ill suddenly (as soon as you’re exposed to the allergen)
  2. You don’t have body aches or pains
  3. You feel run-down and tired often
  4. Symptoms continue for weeks or months—as long as you’re exposed to the allergen
  5. If you’re exposed to the allergen all the time, you may have chronic symptoms (year-round)
  6. Symptoms are caused by an overactive immune system: your body thinks certain airborne particles like dust or mold (called allergens) are attacking you. As the body fights these allergens, you develop allergy symptoms

Winter allergies may develop into sinus infections, ear infections, and upper respiratory infections. A good rule to remember is that if you have 3 or more sinus infections, ear infections, or upper respiratory infections per year, you should be checked for allergies. Infants who get 6 or more upper respiratory infections may also have allergies.

An allergist can perform an allergy test that tells you exactly what your allergies are. This is a big step in understanding your symptoms and taking charge of your health.

Winter Allergy Symptoms:

  1. Nasal congestion
  2. Fatigue
  3. Sinus pressure or problems
  4. Sneezing
  5. Watery and/or itchy eyes
  6. Scratchy throat
  7. Wheezing
  8. Frequent ear infections (3 or more per year)
  9. Frequent sinus infections (3 or more per year)
  10. Recurrent upper respiratory infections (3 or more per year)
  11. Dry, itchy, scaly skin (including eczema)
  12. Asthma (in some people)

Control Indoor Allergies
Winter is a good time to figure out if you have indoor allergy symptoms—allergies commonly found in your home, office, or school environment. Once you isolate your indoor allergy symptoms and deal with them, you will be better prepared to face pollen season in the spring.

Studies indicate that by controlling your day-to-day, indoor allergy symptoms, Asthma attacks will occur less frequently and other allergy symptoms will also be lessened.

Preventing indoor allergies doesn’t mean ripping out all your carpet and selling your pets. Simple steps can make a big difference. Focus on your bedroom areas first, since you spend 8 hours a day in your bed. If you can make an allergy-free haven in the bedroom, this will really help control allergy symptoms.

10 Steps to Allergy-Proofing your Home
1- Keep pets out of the bedroom.

  1. Eliminating knick-knacks, book shelves, and other dust-collectors from your bedroom.
  2. Fix leaky faucets and pipes.
  3. Clean out the fridge; don’t forget drip-pans.
  4. In the winter, use allergy-filtering furnace filters, and change monthly. During the summer, use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter attachment on your air conditioner.
  5. Clean sinks, tubs, and showers really well at least once a month. Mold really loves that slimy soap scum on shower walls and tiles. Use a scrubbing brush or a good scrubbing sponge. Bleach-containing cleaners will kill the mold.
  6. Clean inside garbage cans out.
  7. Use a dehumidifier if your indoor humidity level is over 45 percent (best indoor humidity level is 35 percent).
  8. If someone in your home uses a humidifier, make sure it’s cleaned out daily according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  9. Use hypoallergenic mattress, box spring, and pillow covers on your bed. This is important if you have a dust allergy.

Winter Allergy Statistics
If you think you might have indoor allergies during the winter, you’re not alone. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, there are 40 million people in the US with indoor allergies. For many of these individuals—such as people with allergies to mold— winter is their worst allergy season.

Indoor allergies are often undiagnosed and untreated. This puts people at higher risk of chronic sinus infections, ear infections, and upper respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia. People with ongoing indoor allergies also have a diminished immune response. Since their body is always fighting, their immune system can get run down and not work at efficiently. This is why people with untreated allergies get sick more often with colds, flu and other ailments.

Even people with other allergies may not realize their allergies aren’t all due to pollen. Many people assume that all of their allergy symptoms are due to outdoor pollens (hay fever).

Winter allergy symptoms are caused by perennial (year-long) allergies. You are allergic to these things all year long, but you might not notice them as much at other times of the year.

So—Why do indoor allergy symptoms often get so much worse in the Winter? Good question. Many people wonder why they don’t sneeze around their cat in the summer, or why dust doesn’t bother them as much in the spring.

Pet Allergies
In the case of pet allergies, allergy symptoms are often worse because pets spend more of their time indoors in the winter due to the cold weather. And the more time your pets lounge around inside, the more pet dander circulates through the house.

Pets tend to be bathed less frequently in the winter months, due to extreme temperatures and bad weather. It can be difficult to bathe pets during the winter if you’re use to bathing the dog at home and sending him outside to dry in the sun. People also tend to brush and groom their pets indoors more often during the winter, so instead of all that dander blowing away in the breeze, it gets lodged in your carpet. Bathe pets once a week during the winter, or year-round if they spend time indoors all the time.

No Fresh Air
Another reason that allergy symptoms to things like dust, indoor mold, and pets are worse in winter is due to poor air quality. This is because indoor allergens (the tiny particles of dust or mold that cause your allergy symptoms) get trapped inside buildings.

Usually, many of these airborne allergens are pushed outside as outside air is filtered through the air conditioner and brought inside. Or, open windows permit constant air exchange. In the winter, however, the furnace circulates indoor air. It doesn’t bring in outside air.

Mold
In the case of mold, many molds flourish indoors during the winter months that do not grow very well during other times of year. Moist areas like kitchens, bathrooms, and basements are likely spots for molds. Mold growth is encouraged in the winter by water vapor condensing on cold walls.

Even outdoors, molds do not die off in the winter, like pollens. If molds are growing outside, they might be dormant for the winter, but they survive. And—dormant or not—they’re still potent allergens. Disturbing an area with even dormant mold growth can cause allergy attacks. Woodpiles, gardens, and fallen leaves often have mold growing on them during the winter.

Biggest Causes of Winter Allergies
- Windows are tightly shut against the cold

  1. Air conditioners are off
  2. Furnaces circulate indoor air
  3. Dusty, dirty furnace vents 
  4. Forgetting to change furnace filters monthly
  5. Lack of ventilation
  6. Pets spend more time indoors

Indoor Air Pollution
In some homes or buildings, the density of indoor allergens and air pollutants elevates with each passing month of winter. “Sick building syndrome” is a term used to describe allergy and allergy-like symptoms caused by bad indoor air quality. Though sick building syndrome may happen in large buildings at any time of year, it is usually worst during the winter.
 
Common Winter (Indoor) Allergies
• Mold
• Dust, dust mites
• Pet dander
• Air pollutants (cigarette smoke, kerosene lanterns, coal and wood burning stoves, etc.)
• Cockroaches and other pests

Winter Allergy treatment
Medical treatment for winter allergies (indoor allergies) relies on traditional antihistamines and decongestants, used for other allergy conditions.

Antihistamines——block the allergic response, which in turn lessens the unpleasant symptoms of itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. Most over-the-counter antihistamines will cause drowsiness; see your doctor or allergist for a good non-drowsy antihistamine. There are some antihistamines on the market (such as Claritin) that are available over the counter and are non-drowsy.

Decongestants——are used to clear congestion and stop symptoms like stuffy nose and cough. Decongestants help you feel better, and prevent complications like ear infections, sinus infections, and upper respiratory infections.

Climate Change boosts Allergy Symptoms

You’ve heard about how climate change is creating stronger hurricanes and melting polar ice caps. But did you know climate change is also making people sneeze, sniffle, and wheeze more than ever? Yes, according to several recent studies, the increase in CO2 emissions is creating longer-lasting and more intense allergy and asthma symptoms.

Climate Change Facts

  1. CO2 emissions from factories & automobiles are released
  2. Forests and plants cannot absorb all the CO2
  3. CO2 heats up the climate
  4. Temperatures rise by 1 degree per year (more in polar regions)
  5. Spring comes 20 hours earlier every year
  6. Spring now begins about 25 days earlier than it did in the 1970’s
  7. Every year, winter freeze is delayed by about 0.8 days per year
  8. Longer growing seasons create more pollens and increased allergy symptoms

The increased CO2 emissions are not getting absorbed by trees, plants, and oceans—they’re just heating up the planet. Winter is still cold, but it isn’t as long. And if you’re among the 20 percent of Americans who have seasonal allergies, that’s bad news. Winter gives people with hay fever and allergy-induced asthma a break from most of their symptoms and allows their immune system to prepare for the next allergy season.

A Swiss study found that spring hay fever season has been coming 20 hours earlier every year since 1979. That means that next spring hayfever symptoms will start about 25 days earlier than they used to. But it won’t end any earlier. Warmer temperatures also mean that the first freeze is usually delayed, and the hayfever season lasts further into fall every year. Climate change is creating a longer, more intense pollination season.

A hike in temperatures also means there’s just more pollen out there. With an early spring and a late fall, plants have a longer growing season. So they grow larger, reproduce quicker, and release a larger amount of pollen. Hotter daytime temperatures also allow plants to release more of their pollen every day, leading to higher pollen density counts.

Another study showed that climate change is affecting the pollen season of ragweed, which causes a high number of allergy symptoms. About 75% of people who have hay fever (allergic rhinitis) are allergic to ragweed. Ragweed is flowering and pollinating much earlier in the summer than it used to. This information is of particular concern to people with fall allergies, as ragweed is one of the most common fall allergies.

Ragweed’s earlier pollination season is attributed to climate change and CO2 emissions. Ragweed will continue releasing airborne pollen up until late fall or early winter, when cold nights and freezing temperatures kill it off. This means a longer ragweed pollen season, and more allergy symptoms for people with ragweed allergy. Ragweed also triggers asthma in people with allergy-induced asthma.

Several studies link the global rise in daytime temperatures (by about 1 degree per year, on average) with increased levels of smog and air pollution. The hotter air traps the polluted air particles. This increased air pollution causes more asthma symptoms among children and adults.

Indoor allergy symptoms are also expected to rise with global warming, as mold growth increases. Climate change is causing increased rainfall, and more intense storm systems. This combines with tightly built, energy-efficient homes to create conditions perfect for mold growth. Mold allergy season may be year-round, or peak during wet seasons for your particular climate (mold allergies may be at their worst in winter along the Wasatch Front in Utah, although they can be present year round).

Disclaimer: The allergy information on this website is strictly general information and should not be taken as official advice. Please schedule an appointment with an allergy doctor in order to get a proper and full allergy diagnosis.

This article was developed by Utah Allergy Associates of Utah and Adaptivity Pro Web Design

 
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