Watch Out! Allergy Triggers to Look Out For this Winter

Ian Wahl

By Ian Wahl, founder and medical director of St. Louis Allergy Relief Center

As the seasons change and the cold sets in, we are often stuck indoors for most of the day. Although it may seem that winter arrives with his own set of allergens, some of the most common allergy triggers are the same throughout the summer and spring. Mold, dust and dander (and food allergies) don’t go away in the winter months; in some cases, they become intensified. So, if you suffer from itchy eyes and runny noses in the spring, prepare yourself for the sneezing and wheezing of the winter. With windows closed and heat blazing, your winter home becomes the perfect environment to flare up your allergies. Don’t worry, you’re not alone: about twenty percent of Americans will experience some indoor allergy symptoms this winter. While your common outdoor allergens may have left for now, your indoor allergy triggers are about to increase.

Mold Allergens
Whether you know it or not, we breathe in mold daily. The only reason it goes unnoticed is because mold only affects those who have an allergy or sensitivity to it. From late winter to early spring, the outdoor conditions are ideal for mold. Though it may seem worse during the fall and winter, mold is present year-round. As winter comes, the rotting leaves that autumn has left behind and the moisture in the ground creates the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Most mold exposed within our homes actually comes from the outside—as we walk on the damp ground, we track mold spores into our homes. Therefore, as mold exposure increases outdoors during the winter months, it also increases inside. Depending on the moisture levels in your home, mold can be found in your bathroom or basement or other damp areas in your house, which means the higher the humidity the faster mold grows. Keep the humidity low and you can reduce some concerns about mold this winter.

Pet Allergies in the Winter
As the winter months approach, we are forced to keep our pets inside more often, except for the occasional walk. With your pet constantly in the house, your exposure to pet dander and other pet allergens increases in the winter. It’s not usually the pet’s fur that triggers the allergy, but rather your pet’s dander or dead skin that is shed that leads to serious allergic reactions. In our homes we collect pet dander on our clothes and transport it with us to work, school and other public areas. And, remember, even so-called “hypoallergenic dogs” have dander and saliva anyone can develop a sensitivity to.

Dust and Dust Mites Everywhere
Dust mites are a common cause of indoor allergies in the winter. Commonly found in your bedding and furniture or pretty much anywhere in your home, dust mites are impossible to get rid of. These microscopic bugs can cling to almost any surface, such as upholstered furniture, carpets, house dust, and even your clothing. When the waste and remains of dust mites become airborne or settle in house dust, it causes you to experience allergy symptoms.

Unfortunately, dust and dust mites are impossible to eliminate; but fortunately, you can minimize their impact by using HEPA air purifiers and vacuums along with keeping the humidity low. Just like mold, dust mites thrive in high humidity and warm temperatures, so it is best to keep the humidity in your home less than fifty percent. Washing your sheets, pillows and bedding not only gets rid of unwanted pet dander but it helps minimize your bedding of dust mites. It’s worth repeating, dust and dust mites are present everywhere, but if you pay careful attention to minimizing dust and dust mites in your home this winter you can reduce your chances of triggering serious allergy flare-ups.

Trees and Pollen
Winter provides you an escape from most high pollen counts, but some species of trees such as Cedar, Elm and Pine can pollinate in the winter air. And while fresh cut pine trees may be beautiful and inviting of the Christmas spirit, they harbor mold that adds to your common allergy symptoms. Whether they are releasing pollen or harboring mold, trees play a big role in spreading and carrying some of your most common winter allergens.

What to Do
It is the combination of dry air, lack of air circulation and high humidity that creates the perfect conditions to increase your exposure to common indoor allergens. Dander, dust, dust mites, and mold aren’t going anywhere, but you can take steps to lower your exposure to these allergy triggers this winter. Remember to wash your sheets and bedding once a week, use a dehumidifier to keep humidity under 50%, an air filter to control airborne dust and don’t allow your pets in the bedroom. Now that you have everything you need to know, you can control and minimize your indoor allergies this winter.

St. Louis Allergy Relief Center is a holistic allergy and asthma clinic in Chesterfield, MO. For more information please visit www.StLouisAllergyRelief.com or call 314-384-9304 to reserve your spot at their next monthly Thursday evening introductory workshop to learn how their all natural treatments help relieve seasonal and chronic sinus, skin, stimuli, and food allergies.