The cold weather is always a shock to the system, from shifting the clocks back to preparing for flu season and budgeting for the holidays. Oh, and on top of all of that, you might also be dealing with allergies. Even though it’s not spring. So it’s time to get acquainted with winter allergies. Aka the runny noses and scratchy throats that typically start in November and last through March.
To break down why we even have to deal with winter allergies, we called up Dr. Timothy Murphy, distinguished professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Spoiler: They’re coming from inside your home.
Back up. When is allergy season?
Basically year-round. But different allergens pop up in different seasons. Spring and summer allergies start in — you guessed it — spring and summer. Thanks to pollen. When fall finally rolls around, allergy season is still alive and well. Lucky us. This is usually triggered by ragweed. And it can start in August and last until November.
Now that we’ve hit the winter months. Which is when winter allergies kick in. “It’s when we start staying inside with the doors closed,” said Dr. Murphy. This can increase your exposure to allergens inside your home. Which makes winter a fun game of figuring out if you have a cold, the flu, or just allergies.
So what causes winter allergies?
According to Dr. Murphy, you can thank the following allergens for your winter allergies…
Mildew or mold allergy
Aka allergic reactions to mold spores or other fungi. Which can be found in areas of your home that contain moisture, like bathrooms and kitchens. Think: The brown stuff on your shower curtain that you haven’t gotten around to cleaning recently. Mildew and mold allergy symptoms might look like:
Itchy, watery eyes
Pet dander allergy
Aka symptoms brought on by your furry friends’ dead skin cells. Pet dander allergy symptoms can look like:
Itchy, watery, or red eyes
Itchy nose, mouth or throat
Dust mite allergy
Aka an allergic reaction to teeny tiny bugs (yes, bugs) that live inside dust. Their ideal home: bedding, carpeting, and furniture. Raise your hand if you’re suddenly itchy. Symptoms of a dust mite allergy might include:
Itchy, watery, or red eyes
Itchy, nose, mouth or throat
Any of these symptoms sound familiar? Might be time to see an allergist. Especially if your allergies are really severe (think: making day-to-day life nearly impossible), said Dr. Murphy.
Any tips on how to deal with winter allergies?
Here are a few steps you can take to reduce your sneezing this winter:
Take an antihistamine. Which can help with symptoms like itchy or watery eyes.
Try a decongestant. To break up any mucus build-up. Heads up: Talk to your doctor before trying this treatment if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. You'll want to make sure it’s safe for you and your baby.
Get rid of mold or mildew. Toss out or replace mildew-covered shower curtains, wallpaper, and carpets. Your bathroom = a mold factory.
Vacuum regularly to reduce dust and pet hair.
Wash your sheets once a week in hot water to kill dust mites.
If you’re dealing with dry air, pick up a humidifier, which may help prevent a dry, scratchy throat.
Talk to an allergist. Because they can help you figure out exactly what you’re allergic to. And provide treatment to help your symptoms.
Winter might provide relief from the heat…but not necessarily from allergies. The good thing is there are a few things you can do to mitigate the symptoms. And you can always reach out to an allergist if you have more questions or concerns.
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