When temperatures get below freezing, people with seasonal allergies to grass, tree and weed pollens get well-deserved relief from their symptoms. But if you're still sneezing and blowing your nose when winter descends, you might have indoor allergies.
The problem for many allergy sufferers is figuring out what, exactly, is causing their symptoms. Why? Most allergy sufferers develop similar symptoms no matter what allergen they're reacting to. When you have a stuffy or runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing and coughing you know you're probably allergic to something. Beyond that, it's hard to discover the culprit. If it's serious enough to prompt a trip to the doctor for relief, see an allergist.
"Allergists are the best-trained medical professionals to treat allergies and asthma," says allergist Todd Mahr, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "Much like a cardiologist specializes in heart problems, an allergist specializes in allergic diseases. Your allergist will find the source of your symptoms and treat the cause so you can feel healthy all the time."
Here are some common causes of winter, indoor allergies and tips from ACAAI on what you can do about them:
Dust mite allergy: Dust mites are one of the most common indoor allergens and a year-round annoyance. Those allergic to dust mites suffer most in their own homes. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that live in furniture, carpets and bedding, and feed off the flakes of skin people shed every day. They thrive in warm, humid environments. Often, you'll notice your symptoms immediately after vacuuming, sweeping or dusting, when you've stirred up dust. Molds, pollen, pet hair, fur or feathers can contribute to a dust allergy as well.
* Diagnosis and treatment: As with all the allergies in this article, your allergist will perform a skin test or blood test to determine the exact cause of your allergy and order a course of treatment that may include medications or allergy shots.
* Management: The presence of dust mites does not mean you have a dirty house; they're everywhere. You can lessen or avoid your symptoms by removing the usual suspects that cause dust allergies. Choose wood floors instead of carpet, clean your house with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, use mite-proof cases on your mattresses and pillows and wash your linens regularly in hot water. Consider installing a high-efficiency disposable filter in your HVAC system. The filter should have a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 11 to 13 — the higher the MERV rating the better.
Mold allergy: Molds live inside and outside of your home. They can thrive in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens, and the annoying thing about molds is that many molds aren't visible to the naked eye. As the spores become airborne, they can cause allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms.
* Diagnosis and treatment: Your allergist may have you track your symptoms over time to see where you've been when your allergies flare up. That will help identify the culprit. Antihistamines and decongestants can ease symptoms.
* Management: Wear a mask when doing yard work, and once inside, take a shower and rinse your nose with a saline solution to remove mold spores. In the kitchen, clean up any spills or leaks quickly to prevent mold from growing. Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in areas like bathrooms and basements. Clean your garbage cans and fridge drawers. For serious mold problems, call a professional.
Pet allergy: It's a heartbreaking situation for pet lovers if they have allergy symptoms after being with their pets. Allergy symptoms can be constant because exposure can occur anywhere — in pet-friendly workplaces, restaurants and stores, at school, in daycare, anywhere a pet owner has been.
* Diagnosis and treatment: Your allergist will perform a skin test or blood test to determine if your pet is causing your allergy symptoms. They may advise treating with nasal sprays, antihistamines or other medications. Allergy shots are also effective in treating pet allergies, because a resistance is built up over time.
* Management: Avoidance is the best way to manage a pet allergy, but you don’t have to part with your furry family members. Some ways to lessen your symptoms include keeping your pet out of your bedroom, washing your hands with soap and water after petting or playing with your pet, vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum and bathing your pet once a week.
Once you know the cause of your symptoms, you can conquer the allergy. It’s time to take control of your allergies and asthma and start enjoying life again. It’s time to find an allergist. To find an allergist in your area, use the Allergist Locator tool on the ACAAI website.