It’s almost winter and, for allergy sufferers, getting ready for the season means more than pulling your sweaters out of storage. You might not think of winter as an allergy season, but if you experience a runny nose, sinus congestion, sore throat, shortness of breath and coughing for longer than two weeks, it is most likely allergies. While there’s less pollen floating around, closing the house and turning on the heat causes a concentration of animal dander, dust mites, mold, smoke and emissions from heating systems that can trigger an allergic response. Ahead of winter’s arrival, it’s smart to identify these allergens and do all you can to make your home an allergy-free zone.
Indoor heating causes increased allergens for many people. During the warmer months, when your heater is off, contaminants can build up in your ducts. The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA) considers HVAC systems possible pathways for pollutants and contaminants like dust, bacteria, and, especially, mold. Before the winter season arrives, have your HVAC system inspected. If there’s mold growth in the ducts, consider having them cleaned before you run your heater.
Even a clean heating system can be problematic, however, because indoor heating dries out the air in your house. When the air is too dry, it can aggravate respiratory ailments like asthma and allergies, as well as causing dry, irritated sinus passages, itchy skin, and sore throats. Keeping your home at an appropriate relative humidity level- between 30-50% is best for health and comfort.
Humidity is not the only issue your home’s air can face. Common indoor allergies include pet hair and dander, dust particles, dust mites, mold, and cockroach droppings. Your indoor air can also be polluted with cigarette smoke and emissions from gas stoves as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from your cleaning products. Even your Christmas tree can be harboring mold spores and dust mites! What can you do to rid your home of all these potential allergy and asthma triggers?
Consider an air purifier. Air purifiers are designed to remove potential allergens from the air in your home. There are many different air purifiers on the market, so be sure to look for one with a HEPA filter, which is the most efficient and allergy-friendly filter you can choose. While it’s not always feasible to have an air purifier in every room of your house, you can make a dent in your home’s indoor allergens by placing them strategically, in the most used rooms of your house. Want a little bit of extra purifying power? Consider houseplants like English Ivy, Lady Palms, or Peace Lilies, which naturally remove pollutants from the air.
Change your HVAC’s filter regularly. The filter in your heating and cooling system should be changed monthly, to keep things like dust mite feces, pet dander, and mold from circulating through your home.
Vacuum and dust frequently. Keeping your home free of dust can make a big difference for allergy sufferers in your family. Every week or two, use a damp rag to wipe down your bedframe, counter tops, shelves, and any other surface that has begun to accumulate dust. After you’ve dusted, vacuum or steam clean your floors, in order to remove dust, dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens. A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is especially effective. If you have pets, make sure to groom them frequently as well.
Clean your bathroom and kitchen. Dust, grease, mold, and mildew in these areas can aggravate allergies. Keep your kitchen and bathroom clean and well-ventilated.
Change your bedding. You should be washing your bedding at least once a week, but it may also be helpful to consider hypoallergenic bedding. At the very least, use a dust mite mattress cover, to keep your mattress clean.
Be mindful of your cleaning products. Instead of harsh chemicals, choose natural cleaners like vinegar and baking soda. A steam cleaner is also a very useful tool for cleaning your house without polluting your indoor air.
Controlling your environment is the first step in preventing allergic reactions during the winter months. However, if your allergies do flare up and persist, identifying the triggers is the next best step. In one visit with the allergist, your allergy triggers can be identified, and an effective treatment plan can be determined.
When you’re ready to get help with your allergies and get back to living your life, contact Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM for help. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist, you can be confident that your doctor will help you find the solutions you need to manage your allergies. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM, all physicians are board-certified in allergy and immunology and can help you identify triggers and learn to control your symptoms. Call 610-825-5800 or visit the website for an appointment, or to learn more about services available to help you with your allergies.