If you’re allergic to pollen, cooler weather may mean your allergies get a break. But it doesn’t mean your environment is free of allergens. If you have indoor allergies, your symptoms may actually stay the same or get worse when you spend more time inside.
When you turn your heat on, dust, mold spores, and insect parts are released into the air. And just like with pollen, they can get into your nose and launch a reaction.
Triggers and Tips for fall and winter allergies:
Ragweed (and other grasses and weeds)
What: Although ragweed usually releases pollen on cool nights and warm days in late summer, it can last into early fall. About 75 percent of people who are allergic to spring plants also have reactions to ragweed. Even if it doesn’t grow where you live, ragweed pollen can travel hundreds of miles in the wind.
Tips: Avoid peak ragweed hours (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.), keep windows closed, change your clothes and wash your hands after you have been outside, watch out for food triggers that contain similar proteins to ragweed pollen such as: bananas, melons, honey, sunflower seeds, and Chamomile tea.
What: These tiny bugs live in mattresses and bedding (they do not bite). It’s when their droppings and remains become airborne, that causes allergy symptoms.
Tips: Wash bed linens once a week in hot water, between 130 and 140 F. And use allergen-reducing and/or dust-proof mattress and pillow case covers.
What: Mold grows in damp environments (like basements and bathrooms), and can be present both indoors and outdoors year-round. Airborne molds can cause asthma symptoms and allergic rhinitis.
Tips: To combat mold, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends fixing plumbing problems or leaks, increasing ventilation in damp areas, and scrubbing mold off surfaces using water and detergent, and drying completely.
Mold can hide anywhere, including under floors, on ceiling tiles, in showers, and behind wallpaper, dry wall, or paneling. When mold grows outdoors, it grows in dark, wooded areas, so thoroughly inspect firewood you plan to bring inside. And, as much as you may want to jump in a leaf pile, remember at some point it was likely damp and a breeding ground for mold.
What: All warm-blooded pets, such as cats, dogs, birds, and rodents, have dead skin cells known as animal dander. Allergies to pets are caused when a person has a reaction to proteins found in the animal’s saliva, skin cells or urine – not the actual animal. Colder weather usually means both people and their animals are indoors more often, so allergies may flare up. While there are pets that do not shed, there are no breeds of cats or dogs that are truly hypoallergenic as they all have some level of dander.
Tips: Keep pets out of bedrooms and other highly-used areas in the home to reduce exposure, and bathe your pets once a week. Also, damp dusting and vacuum cleaners fitted with HEPA filters reduce re-distribution of the dander dust into the air.
Smoke and Pollutants
What: Similar to trees, firewood can contain mold spores. If you bring moldy wood into the home, it can release irritating smoke and other airborne pollutants into the home, potentially causing allergic rhinitis or asthma symptoms.
Tips: Keep firewood outside the home (in a dry area) until you are ready to use. Make sure any firewood you bring indoors has been brushed off (with a stiff bristled brush) and has NO mold on it. Do not burn moldy wood, as it will spread mold spores throughout your house. Also, when starting any fire, be sure the chimney damper is open so no unwanted smoke comes indoors.
Christmas trees and wreaths
What: While Christmas trees themselves may not be the source of allergic reactions, they can harbor mold spores and microscopic allergens, and even sap and pollen.
Tips: Before bringing a live Christmas tree (or wreath) indoors, hose down the tree, then let it sit in the sun to dry and/or use a leaf blower to eliminate pollen and as many mold spores as possible. If there are no small children or pets, a mixture of bleach and water can be sprayed on the foliage without harming the tree. Note: remove the tree immediately after the holidays as mold accumulates the longer a tree stays inside your home.
Using an artificial tree (and wreaths) will eliminate the chance of bringing mold spores, sap or pollen into the home. Be sure to give an artificial tree a good cleaning/dusting off before setting it up for the holidays if it has been in storage.