Dust mites, mold spores, and other allergens in your home can trigger those miserable symptoms all winter long. Learn how to get relief.
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Winter brings many people with allergies a break from their symptoms. But for others, winter can be the start of a whole new allergy season. “Winter allergies are typically going to be the indoor allergens such as pets, dust mites, and mold,” says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati. She says that for people who live in tropical climates, pollen allergies can linger year-round, even through the winter. But in places where temperatures dip in the winter, it’s generally indoor allergens that cause symptoms.
Dust Mites, Dander, Roaches, and Mold
Household dust, pet dander, cockroach droppings, and mold are common indoor allergens that can trigger allergies in susceptible people.
Dust. Found in all homes, dust is the breeding ground for microscopic organisms called dust mites. The droppings of these dust mites are a common trigger for indoor allergies. Though dust mites can be found just about everywhere, they are particularly common in humid parts of the house and where human dander (flakes of dead skin) collects.
Animal dander, or the dead skin flakes of warm-blooded animals, contains proteins that can trigger allergies in some people.
Cockroaches. If you needed another reason to hate them, here it is: A protein that is found in the droppings of cockroaches triggers allergy and asthma symptoms in some people.
Mold. While many molds do not survive outdoors after the first winter frost, they can linger in your home throughout the winter, especially in humid areas such as basements or bathrooms. “Be very careful if you have a humidifier on your furnace or a room humidifier because you can end up with mold growth,” says Dr. McNairn. Spores released by mold can act as allergens in some people.
Tips for Reducing Indoor Allergies
Here are some ways you can reduce the potential allergens in your home:
Keep humidity levels low. “Keeping the relative humidity less than 50 percent is going to be important,” says McNairn. You can lower the humidity in your home by using a dehumidifier in damp areas such as a basement.
Use hardwood, linoleum, or tile. Replace carpeting and rugs with hard-surface flooring. Your carpet and rugs can trap in allergens within the fibers, as opposed to hard surface flooring, which you can regularly dust.
Clean carpeting. If you are unable or unwilling to remove all carpet, have your carpeting and rugs regularly cleaned to reduce the amount of allergens in them.
Cover your bedding. Use special allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers under regular sheets and pillowcases.
Wash bedding. Wash bedding in hot water and dry it on high heat weekly.
Leave the cleaning to someone else. Have your floors regularly vacuumed with a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) vacuum. “It’s a good idea for the allergic person not to do the cleaning,” says McNairn. “If they do, they should wear a face mask and goggles.” HEPA vacuums suck up smaller particles than do traditional vacuum cleaners, leaving you with fewer allergens left behind.
Find pets a new home. In the case of animal dander allergies, consider removing a pet from the home or keeping the pet outdoors. And keep pets out of the bedroom.
Cover food. Store food in tight-lidded containers, and keep your home clean to prevent cockroach infestation.
Rid the house of cockroaches. If you see a cockroach, have a professional exterminator get rid of any remaining roaches.
Eliminate visible mold. “Any visible mold should be cleaned with a diluted bleach solution,” says McNairn.
Consider an indoor air cleaner. “HEPA air cleaners can help with pet dander,” says McNairn. There are many varieties available; for more on air purifiers, see Allergy Relief for Indoor Air Pollution.
Controlling indoor allergens during the winter months will make life more comfortable for anyone who’s allergic to them. The added bonus: You’ll always have a clean house!