With no pollen in sight, how is it possible to have allergies when there’s snow on the ground? Here's what you should know about your allergy symptoms and how to treat them.
Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, make millions of people miserable each spring. In the fall and summer, pollen counts can be high, too. With that sort of thinking, we’d believe that winter allergies don’t exist. Unfortunately, they do.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, between five and 20 percent of Americans suffer from winter allergies. One reason is climate change. With milder winter weather, many plants are still in bloom. Heavy rains play a role in causing winter allergies.
We’d think that rain would wash away the pollen. That’s true. However, at the start of a storm, the rains cause the pollen particles to burst and spread. “During a rainstorm, the pollen in your environment gets saturated and fractures, releasing small particles into the air at a much higher concentration,” said Warner Carr, MD, an allergist with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Why you might have winter allergies
Once the snow falls, the pollen eventually goes away. When that happens, we tend to spend more time indoors. Our homes play host to an assortment of allergens, such as dust mites, mold, and pet dander. We turn up the heat, and these allergens thrive.
Dust mites live on every continent except Antarctica and are too small to detect. They tend to live in mattresses, pillows, rugs, and other fabrics.
Mold is a common winter allergy, too. Unfortunately, there are approximately 1,000 different mold species that live in our basements, bathrooms, and under the sinks. They like moisture and warm humid spaces. Most aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Pet dander are the flecks of skin shed by our cats, dogs, rodents, birds, and other pets with fur or feathers.
Symptoms of winter allergies to dust mites, mold, and pet dander
- Sneezing and coughing
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Itchy, red, and watery eyes
- Dry throat
- Postnasal drip
To know for sure if you have a winter allergy, visit an allergist. She’ll give you a skin prick test. Your allergist will apply a small amount of the allergen to your skin and then gently prick or scratch the area. You’ll then wait in the office for 20 minutes. Your allergist is looking for redness, swelling, or itching.
How to treat winter allergies
If the test is positive, your allergist may prescribe allergy medications. Some are over-the-counter, and others are prescription strength. Most contain decongestants. Claritin and Zyrtec are popular brands, and your allergist can also recommend generics. Talk to your allergist for your best option.
Other things you can do to reduce winter allergies include:
- Use a humidifier to reduce the dryness in your home. Make sure your home isn’t too humid because dust mites and mold multiply when the humidity is over 60 percent and temperatures are between 60 and 85. Keep the indoor temperatures around 68 and the humidity levels at 50 percent.
- If it’s possible, avoid wall-to-wall carpets. Dust mites find a favorable home in a carpet. If you do have carpets, vacuum them daily and throw out the bag or use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air filter; it’s better known as a HEPA filter.
- Wash all sheets and pillow cases weekly in hot water. You can also purchase hypoallergenic zippered mattress covers and pillow cases to keep dust mites away from your body.
- To cut down on pet dander, have someone in your family who’s not allergic brush your pet. Do this on a daily basis. If you have a dog, you can take him to the groomer’s once a month.
If you suffer from pet dander allergies, make your bedroom a pet-free zone. You can give your pets lots of extra love when you get up.
It’s easy to manage indoor winter allergies in your home. If you find yourself sneezing and having flu-like symptoms at work, ask your boss if the company can use filters in their air systems. You can also see if the carpeting on the floor in your office or cubicle can be removed. Or you can place a plastic chair mat between your chair and the carpet.
Some offices tend to be overheated. Ask if you can turn on the air conditioner, which minimizes some allergens.
If you are feeling healthier, you’ll be more productive. Let your boss know about your winter allergies. So many people still aren’t aware that they exist. By sharing this information, you may be able to make changes at the office.
February 13, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN