Indoor Winter Allergies
Most people associate the Allergy Season to be Spring/Summer time and the Flu season to be Autumn/Winter time, however Indoor allergies are very common and millions of people suffer from allergy symptoms year-round. You may find an increase in your allergy symptoms during the winter months due to the time spent inside during cold weather.
Although cold temperatures bring an end to seasonal pollen allergies, outdoor allergies aren’t such a cause for concern. However indoor winter allergies soon take over as we spend more time indoors during the cold winter months.
From October on you might notice an increase in allergy symptoms, such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing and an itchy roof of mouth. Many people suffer from winter allergies due to the time spent indoors.
Our homes are sealed for most of the winter and the heat is turned on, this reduces ventilation and allows allergen particles to build up inside your homes. Indoor allergens include dust mites, mould, pet dander, cockroach droppings and other allergens.
While your central heating may bring warmth, it can have an affect on the relative humidity of your home by drying out the indoor air.
Excessively dry air can lead to:
- Dry, irritated sinus passages
- Bloody noses
- Itchy skin
- Cracked lips
- Sore, scratchy throats
- Aggravated respiratory ailments
A decrease in moisture in your indoor environment can also affect your physical home and the belongings inside it, causing warping, cracking and separation in wood products. Humidifiers help to alleviate these symptoms and side affects, and maintain a comfortable relative humidity level. If you’re unsure about the relative humidity in your home, a hygrometer can determine it for you.
During summer months, your heaters or radiators are likely to have gathered some allergens, notably: Dust, dust mites, mould spores, pet dander, and more. When you turn your heater on, these irritants can be distributed throughout your room, causing irritating allergy and asthma symptoms. Many horizontal radiators have convector fins inside them- these are the ridges, between which heat transfers and is radiated out into the room. If these become dusty, less heat will be transferred between them and could spread dust and allergens around the room.
Common indoor allergens include:
|Allergen||Where it’s found||What is it||Increases Allergen|
|Airborne dust particles/ Human & Pet Dander (dead skin flakes)||Indoor surfaces: Bedding, Carpets, upholstery||Dander can get into household dust and stick to indoors surfaces, increasing your chances of exposure.||Pets indoor during the winter, especially in bedrooms or living rooms|
|Dust mites||Bedding, Carpets, upholstery||Microscopic bugs live in warm, damp environments, and their excrement can get into household dust.||Indoor heating with windows closed all the time, not hoovering, dusting regularly especially bedroom|
|Mould||Damp, dark, moist areas: Bathrooms, Basements, corners of a room||When Mould spores are inhaled by those with allergies it can trigger sneezing, congestion and itchiness. Damp weather can promote mould growth.||Humidifiers, leaky pipes or faucets|
|Cockroach Droppings||Dark, moist areas: Kitchen Cupboards, under sinks, or behind appliances||Proteins found in saliva and excrement of cockroaches can easily spread like dust through homes. Can affect both adults and children, though children are known to be more susceptible.
Damp weather can drive roaches indoors.
|Leaving out food or crumbs|
- Watery eyes
- Runny/Stuffy nose
- Itchy eyes/nose/throat/ear
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Breathing difficulty
- Dry Cough, sometimes producing phlegm
- Skin rash
- Feeling sick
- Low-grade fever
Some allergies may also lead to more disruptive asthmatic symptoms:
- Chest tightness
- Wheezing or whistling when you breathe
- Breathing rapidly
- Feeling exhausted
- Feeling anxious
It is advised to see a doctor if you have symptoms you think are caused by an allergy and over-the-counter allergy medications don’t provide relief.
Allergies vs. the Cold
During the winter, it can be difficult to distinguish an allergy from the cold, however both have very different sources. A cold is a result from a virus that’s spread by an infected individual. An allergy is the body’s immune system response to an irritant or trigger and continues as long as the allergen is present. Both share symptoms, such as sneezing, runny/stuffy nose and congestion while itchy watery eyes and itchy throat and ear are typically the sign of an allergy,
A cold will end once your body fights off the infection. Allergies can happen whenever your are exposed to allergens.
|Length||Several days/months or longer||Several days-2 weeks|
|When||Anytime during the year||More common in Winter and Spring|
|Symptoms||Appear with exposure to allergen
· Cough, runny nose and stuffiness
· Itchy throat
· Itchy and watery eyes
|Appear a few days after infection
· Cough, runny nose and stuffiness
· Sore throat
· No itchy eyes
Prevention- How to reduce exposure to Allergens
- Use special protective casing over your pillows and mattress to reduce dust mites.
- Wash bedding, pillow cases, clothing regularly in hot water to reduce dander and dust mites
- Remove fluffy cushions, teddies and upholstery from bed
- Replace carpet floor with wood, tile or linoleum and avoid wall-to-wall carpeting
- Seal cracks or openings in doors, windows or walls where cockroaches can enter, or outdoor air can blow in
- Fix any leaks in bathroom, roof, pipes to stop moisture build up for dust mites
- Clean areas e.g sinks and showers with mould growth with water and 5% bleach solution
- Regularly hoover, dust and clean your house preferably with a HEPA filter vacuum
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture indoors-ideal humidity level is 30-50%.
- Remove old shower curtain, wallpaper, carpeting with mould
- Bathe pets once a week to minimize dander
- Clean up pet food after feeding
- Keep out of bedroom of allergic individual
- Keep clothes, jumpers, scarves etc clean, hung up away from floor dust
- Wear silk PJs
- Use a salt inhaler
- Bring your own pillow/pillow case to sleepover
- Consider an artificial Christmas tree as real ones can contain mould or chemicals
- Clean ornaments before you hang them
- Use glass or plastic ornaments instead of fabric
Public areas, such as workplaces or shops, can have the same allergy-inducing conditions as your home such as, dry air, dust, and dust mites. Even when shopping and trying on clothes make sure to get fresh air between every few shops as I often get symptoms when trying on different fabrics.
If you are asthmatic, allergies can aggravate your breathing and lead to an increase of inhaler use. If this happens, it is important to speak with your GP or asthma nurse as they may advise an allergy tablet or a stronger inhaler rather than taking your current inhaler multiple times throughout the day.
If symptoms last more than a week, it is advised to see your doctor who may refer you to an Allergist. The Allergist may do a Skin Prick test, where they scratch your skin with a small piece of an allergen or inject it just under your skin. If the area turns red with a lump, you may be allergic, however further blood tests will accurately diagnose your allergy.
Allergies can be treated instantly at home and by long-term clinical treatments.
Over the Counter allergy medication:
Speak with your pharmacist or doctor to find out which over-the-counter medication is right for you.
- Antihistamines- pills, nasal sprays, eye drops
- target histamine, which your body makes during an allergic reaction.
- Build up in blood to protect against allergens and block the release of histamines, advisable to take before you have symptoms
- Decongestants- pills, liquids, nasal sprays
- Cut down the fluid in the lining of the nose which relieves swollen nasal passages and congestion
Some medication may combine antihistamines and decongestants and their name usually ends with -D can relieve headaches.
Again speak with your doctor to find out which option is best for you.
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots or under-the-tongue tablets) expose your body 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.
- Neti pot works by pouring clean, distilled water through your nasal passages to clear out mucus and allergens.
- Rhinolight treatment (UV phototherapy for nose and sinus allergy) is a high-intensity, ultraviolet light which is inserted into the nasal passage to reduce, and potentially eliminate, the allergic response to allergens.
If you have any concerns regarding your allergies or think you have symptoms that are caused by allergies, it is advised that you see your doctor to find the best treatment for you.