As the thermometer drops and the storms roll in many allergy sufferers (literally) breathe a sigh of relief as hay fever season disappears until next spring. But before you even have time to pack away your hankies you’ve got a cold – great! Or is it a cold?
Common Cold or Winter Allergy?
If you’ve been sniffling and sneezing for weeks and it doesn’t seem to be going away then the chances are it probably isn’t a cold. The common cold tends to only last a few days and certainly no more than 2 weeks. It looks like you are suffering from a winter allergy for which there are a range of causes all of which are become more prevalent during the colder weather. To be sure whether it is a common cold or allergy that is causing your misery have a look at our page on the differences between cold and allergy symptoms.
What Causes Winter Allergies?
Most, if not all, of the triggers that cause allergies in the winter are present all year round. It is generally just a matter of the exposure to the allergens being greater during the winter months, particularly as we spend more times indoors. This is particularly true for those of us who live in parts where the winters are cold.
The most common causes of winter allergy include:
- Mold grows both indoors and out. Allergies are triggered by the microscopic spores which are released by the million. As a type of fungus mold loves a warm, damp environment and unfortunately many homes provide just that. Add in a lack of ventilation when you try to keep the heat in and this could be just the thing to set your allergy off. Outdoor mold tend to be most active in releasing their spores from September to October. With its favourite habitat being dark, damp woodland a major route into your home is on firewood. Also, all those early winter piles of leaves you tramp through on your way home are a veritable breeding ground for mould.
- Dust mites are perhaps the single biggest cause of allergies today. These microscopic arachnids love similar conditions to mold – i.e. warm and damp. So, if this describes your home in the winter months you could be in for a double whammy.The problem with these indoor allergens has been exacerbated with the advent of double glazing, central heating and thick pile carpets – all the things we love in the winter.
One thing you can do to make your home a little less welcoming is use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity to around 50%.
- Pet dander, i.e. the dead skin from your furry (or feathered) friend is a well known allergy trigger. During the winter both you and your pets are likely to be spending a lot more time together indoors. As a result a corresponding rise in pet allergy symptoms is seen in the winter.There are a few things that can help such as keeping pets out of the bedroom. However, the bad news is the biggest difference can be made by giving your pet a bath at least once a week…
- Christmas. OK, so nobody is actually allergic to Christmas itself but there are a plenty of allergy triggers bundled up in the festive season.As we mentioned firewood could be a source of mold spores ready to disperse around your house. If a roaring open fire isn’t the epitome of Christmas then how about the Christmas tree itself. Unfortunately, this too can have a less than healthy coating of mould spores. And if you thought an artificial tree was the answer then be sure to check it hasn’t spent the last eleven and a half months gathering dust ready to unleash on your poor nose.
It isn’t just woody things that can trip you up at Christmas. All that going out – office parties and festive food can be a source of allergens. All that party perfume and fragrance going around can set off asthma or skin allergies whilst eating out can be a potential minefield for those with food allergies.
As with most allergies, the most powerful remedy is understanding what is causing them and actively avoid these triggers. That doesn’t mean we’re suggesting you spend the winter outside in the cold. There is lots of good advice out there about reducing the level of allergens in your home, and this can make a huge difference to your quality of life.