Do you or anyone you know experience allergies during the wintertime? It's one thing to experience a light cold or the flu that has you coughing and feeling congested for a few days. It's another when you feel like that 24/7 for weeks on end.
If you're one of the people that experience chronic respiratory problems throughout the winter, you could be dealing with more than just a prolonged cold. You could have allergies affecting you in your indoor or outdoor environment.
Are winter allergies a real thing?
Most people associate allergies with a rise in pollen and dust levels during the summertime and fall. Everything in nature is dormant in the winter, and there's little to no pollen or dust in the air – So, what gives?
Unfortunately, winter allergies do exist. This post unpacks everything you need to know about the condition and how to keep it from affecting your quality of life.
Winter allergies come in two categories, environmental and seasonal. The most common type is environmental allergens such as overexposure to dust mites, VOCs, smoke, mold, and pet dander. The second is exposure to seasonal allergens, such as pollen and dust also play a role, depending on where you live in the United States.
Regardless of the time of year, if there are allergens present in your home and you have a sensitivity to them, you're going to experience problems. Some of the common symptoms associated with allergy attacks include puffy and watering eyes, inflammation of the skin around the eyes, skin rashes, itching, sneezing, congestion, a sore throat, and breathing problems.
However, it might surprise you to learn that indoor air quality s up to 5-times worse than outdoors. During the winter, we sit in our homes with the windows and doors closed. Many homes don't have air conditioning, and they rely on heating methods like fireplaces and gas heaters to heat the space.
Some people may use humidifiers to add moisture to the air, but in general, most of us don't have these luxuries in our homes. As a result, you risk exposure to gas fumes, smoke, and other volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) found in liquids and gases used to heat your house.
When the temperature inside the home warms up, many people use humidifiers to moisten the air. However, it's possible to overdo it and make the area too humid. The combination of warm and moist air drives the dust mites living in your home into a breeding and colonizing frenzy.
Dust mites are tiny microscopic creatures living in the cushions in your couch, your mattress, carpets, rugs, and curtains. These little critters feed of the dead skin cells we shed into these items. Increases in dust mite activity expose us to more dust as the parasites excrete it after processing their food.
People with sensitivity to dust mites will notice an almost immediate increase in allergy symptoms after exposure to high levels of dust and dust mites.
Mold is also a problem in the home during winter. Any dark, warm, damp spaces attract mold spores, and the laundry room is a prime example. If a pipe starts dripping and you don't notice it, mold may begin to grow around the base of the dryer or washing machine without you realizing it.
As the mold grows, it spreads throughout the air in your home, looking for more places where it can start to settle and spread. The presence of mold spores in the air has a musty smell, and people with allergies will see an immediate increase in respiratory distress.
To ensure you don't have mold growing in your home, get a seasonal inspection of your property. MI&T will visit your premises and use advanced air detection technology to give you a readout of the air quality in your home.
If they notice mold in the report, they'll find it, wherever it is inside your house. MI&T can advise you on the safe removal of the mold, but they can't recommend a mold removal company. As an unbiased and impartial mold inspection service, MI&T doesn't work with any contractors.
Seasonal winter allergies are less common than the environmental type during the wintertime. Typically, pollen is the biggest culprit for the emergence of winter allergies in affected individuals.
While many trees spread pollen during the summer and fall, there are a few evergreen varieties and shrubs that spread pollen during the winter as well.
Trees from the juniper and cedar families are notorious for releasing significant quantities of highly allergenic pollen. The western red cedar, mountain cedar tree, and rocky mountain cedar are all known for releasing pollen during the wintertime, causing the onset of allergies in affected individuals.
There is even a specific term for people that come down with allergy symptoms from the pollen dropping from these cedar trees. The locals call it "cedar fever."
The mountain cedar tree is common in areas across Oklahoma and Texas, but there are plenty of other juniper varieties spread across the United States and North America. The wind can also carry airborne pollen for hundreds of miles away from the source.
Allergens change with the seasons and with the region. The plant life in different states affects the pollen count in the air at other times of the year.
For instance, those individuals with pollen allergies might find they have a terrible time in the Pacific Northwest, but hardly any issues in the Northeast United States.
Winter allergies can also occur due to us spending more time indoors during the year's colder months. As mentioned, environmental factors play the biggest role in allergens, and if we're indoors all the time, we can guarantee high exposure to these allergens.
The HVAC system or air conditioner in homes is also a significant culprit of increasing allergens. Many people don't complete seasonal maintenance on the machine, causing it to back up the filters and ducting with dust, particulate matter, biological particulates, and more.
With the air quality being up to 5-times worse indoors, it's important to ensure your HVAC or air conditioner is in proper working order for the season.
Some people may find it hard to tell the difference between an allergy attack and the onset of a cold or influenza infection. However, both conditions affect the respiratory system, causing distress.
The difference is that allergies are not viral; it's your immune system reacting to what it thinks is an invading pathogen.
As the flu progresses, the disease consumes your body, producing symptoms like fever and aching. Allergies rarely get this bad, but they can leave you feeling terrible nonetheless.
Typically, allergy symptoms leave the affected individual feeling congested, with other symptoms like sneezing and labored breathing or coughing.
However, allergies won't cause you to develop a fever.
Other tell-tale signs of allergic reactions include itching and watering eyes, as well as itchy skin. These symptoms don't occur as part of influenza infection or a cold.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has plenty more information available to review winter allergens and the difference between the flu and allergic reactions.
It's probably not a good idea to live within range of the mountain cedar. However, even if you live far away from it, you'll still have to contend with other local contaminants, pollutants, and allergens in your area.
Here are our top tips to help you reduce your allergen exposure this winter.
Keep an eye on the weather report and avoid going outdoors on windy days or when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is at levels outside the orange zone.
Make sure you clean all your bedding and wash your sheets at least once a week. Surfaces trap allergens and mold, and that includes your duvet cover and clothing.,
Vacuum and clean your home two to three times a week to remove dust and particulate matter. Choose a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter system to return clean air to the room.
If you have an HVAC system at home, change the filters and hire a company to clean out the ducting. The filter and ducting build up particle residue that gradually reduces the efficacy of the device.
Get a seasonal inspection and service of your air-conditioner or HVAC to ensure you have optimal air quality in your home.
An air purifier is useful for removing pollutants and particulate matter from the air. However, make sure you don't get one with an ionizer.
Ionizers produce ozone, which interacts with the nitrogen in the atmosphere to create smog. Ground-level ozone is a severe lung irritant causing respiratory distress and breathing problems.
Start your preparation against winter allergens right. Call the team at MI&T for a seasonal inspection of the air quality in your home.