Our UC Health Allergy & Sinus experts Alfred Sassler, DO; Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, PhD; and Allen Seiden, MD, share some need-to-know information on how to prepare, recognize and manage those itchy, achy and troublesome winter allergy symptoms.
What causes allergies in the winter?
The truth is, allergies exist year round. Outdoor allergens may be dormant, but many of those irritants become trapped indoors. During the spring and summer months, dust, molds and animal dander collect in heat vents, and come winter are expelled into the home when the heat is turned on.
As we move into the holiday season, be mindful of certain decorations that can trigger your allergies. The decorations themselves may not be the source of your sneezing but the mold and dust buildup during storage may be. For example, artificial wreaths may reduce the likelihood of symptoms but are likely to become damp, grow mold and accumulate dust in your attic or basement if not stored properly. Additionally, many studies have shown that there are large amounts of mold spores on pine tree needles, bark and even the water in the tree stand if the water is stagnant.
How do you know if it’s allergies or a cold?
It all comes down to timing. Allergies typically occur at the same time every year and are characterized by sneezing, itching of the nose and eyes, and runny nose, which persist for as long as the allergen is present (usually two to three weeks at a time).
On the other hand, a cold may cause nasal inflammation but also includes symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, and overall aches and pains. These symptoms typically begin to improve over the course of three to five days, resolving completely within seven to 14 days.
What helps with winter allergies?
If you know you are sensitive to indoor allergens such as dust, molds and animal dander, there are preventative measures you can take to alleviate these symptoms.
At the end of fall, through the winter months, take a daily antihistamine and/or try daily use of a steroid nasal spray.
A humidifier can alleviate dry and inflamed sinuses. Be mindful not to go much higher than 40% humidity to avoid creating an ideal environment for dust mites. An air purifier with a HEPA filter can also mitigate indoor irritants. Our team recommends keeping products like these in your bedroom since we spend nearly seven to eight hours there at a time.
Avoiding indoor allergens is difficult during the winter. However, using dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows, avoiding the use of carpet and drapes, as well as frequently washing sheets in hot water can reduce the presence of dust.
Alternative Allergy Treatments
UC Health Allergy & Sinus offers all modalities of treatments, from medication, environmental controls and injections. Lately gaining more attention is an alternative method of treatment called oral immunotherapy (OIT) drops. Once the allergen is known, the patient, within the comfort of their own home, is able to administer drops of that allergen under their tongue, rather than getting injections at a doctor’s office. The drops train the immune system to fight off the allergen, reduce symptoms and provide relief sooner.
You can get allergy testing almost anywhere, but what sets our subspecialists apart are their extensive track record of clinical expertise, research and education. When our team is not caring for their patients, they spend their time lecturing regionally, nationally and internationally, as well as leading organizations such as the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy, the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery and the American Rhinologic Society.
Our UC Health Allergy & Sinus physicians are leaders in the city—committed to providing unmatched, individualized care to get you back to enjoying life, no matter the season.