Be Allergy ready this winter

Dr. Soumya Ramanna Shetty, MS ENT
Salmiya Clinic

Winter is finally here. This is the perfect season to enjoy the warmth of the sun outdoors with your family and friends. Also, who doesn’t love to snuggle up with a cup of hot coffee, a good book and a warm blanket? Though all of this sounds so enticing for many, for people with allergies, this season can bring quite a bit of discomfort. Constant runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, stuffy nose, scratchy throat, coughing and occasionally trouble breathing; these symptoms can take away all the pleasure of winter.

Commonly we think of allergies in relation to outdoor dust, smoke, pollen from trees/grasses. We often overlook the burden of indoor allergens. There are multiple allergens inside our homes, like dust, dust mites, mold, pet dander and cleaning chemicals. Winter can exacerbate these allergens due to poor ventilation, heating systems, dry air and increased usage of heavy blankets/carpets.

Though it is difficult to completely reduce allergies, it is possible to achieve good control over the symptoms by following some important steps.

Frequent cleaning of house:  

As simple and obvious as this may sound, frequent and thorough cleaning of your house can reduce the allergen burden significantly when done in a right way. 

  1. Top to bottom approach: As we dust a surface, most of the dust particles just get dispersed in the air and settle back down after a while. So, always start dusting from the topmost part of the room, gradually working towards the floor at the end.
  2. Use a slightly damp microfiber cloth rather than a dry mop to clean the surfaces.
  3. If you can, wait for 15–20 minutes after dusting, to vacuum the floor. This allows time for the dispersed dust particles to settle down and cleaning is more efficient.
  4. Make sure the vacuum cleaner has a HEPA air filter, so it can trap the dust and allergens effectively, instead of just blowing it out. 
  5. Remove carpeting and heavy upholstery in bedrooms if possible.

Dust mite allergies: 

Dust mites are the most common allergens affecting many people. Dust mites can trigger nasal allergies (allergic rhinitis), asthma or even flare-up eczema. These are tiny organisms, not visible to our eyes, which thrive in warm, humid surroundings. They are mostly found in bedding, pillows, mattresses, curtains and upholstered furniture. They cannot be removed just with vacuum cleaning or regular wash.

  1. Wash bedding weekly: The best way to get rid of them is by frequent washing of bedding in a hot water cycle (around 60c). Small items like soft toys or delicate fabrics which are not suitable for hot water wash can be kept at freezing temperatures for up to 24 hours to remove dust mites.  
  2. Mite-proof encasing: People with dust mite allergies can invest in good quality mite-proof covers for mattresses, pillows and comforters. 
  3. Use HEPA filters to trap dust mites and other allergens in indoor air. Change air filters every 3 months to ensure they remain effective.

Humidity and allergies: 

During winters, low humidity and dry indoor air, use of heating systems can lead to dry nose, chapped skin/lips and irritated nose and sinus passages. Using humidifiers helps with adding moisture to the air and improve the dryness. But, if the humidity levels increase beyond 55-60%, it can lead to increased growth of mold and dust mites. 

The optimal humidity level for the house is around 40% to 45%. It is also very essential to clean or change the humidifier filter regularly to prevent mold growth under it. When possible, it is advisable to use distilled or demineralized water in a humidifier to prevent bacterial growth.

Avoiding indoor mold: 

 Molds can grow anywhere in the house with running water or excess moisture, especially in bathrooms, under the sink, basements or kitchens. It is important to identify and stop any water leakage in the house. If you suspect or notice mold growth, it is best to contact a professional to clean up the mold completely.

Having pets at home: 

 Though it would be ideal for persons with allergies to avoid keeping pets at home, it is a hard choice for many. So if you have allergies and have a pet friend, make sure the pet stays out of the bedroom. Make sure to wash your hands after petting them. Regular grooming of pets can help in reducing the allergen burden. It is very important to vacuum clean all carpets, floors and upholstered furniture daily to remove pet dander.

Nasal Irrigation:

This is a simple at-home remedy for dry, stuffy nose. It is basically rinsing the nose with saline solution. It can help in clearing mucus, flushing out the allergens, pathogens or debris trapped in the nose. Nasal wash can be done using prefilled saline sprays, rinse bottles or containers. But, the most important point to remember is to never use tap water for nasal rinsing. It can contain harmful germs or chemicals and can cause irritation of nasal lining. Instead, you can use sterile or distilled water, RO filtered water or water can be boiled for 5 minutes and used after cooling it down. Do not do nasal rinsing if you have ear infection, feel pressure sensation in ears or undergone ear/nasal surgery, before consulting your doctor.

Bask in the sunshine: 

Studies show that healthy exposure to sunlight, especially in the early morning, can help in strengthening the immune system, boost up our vitamin D levels and help in improving allergies and overall wellbeing. Of course, it is essential to use sun protection with sunscreen, sunglasses and stay well hydrated when outdoors.

Seek medical help:

If your symptoms are severe and persisting, consult your doctor so that they can run tests to identify the potential causes and start appropriate treatment. Before visiting the doctor, write down any symptoms you are experiencing or if you’ve noticed any particular triggers for the symptoms. Inform the doctor if you have a family history of allergy or asthma and make a list of all medications or supplements you’re taking.

While all this may seem quite simple on paper, following these steps on a daily basis can be a daunting task. After all, it is not a onetime solution, rather a continuous process. But, I guess it is all worth the effort to keep our families and loved ones safe and healthy. Hopefully, these steps can help you to enjoy this cozy season, without having to worry about allergies.


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