LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 5, 2012) — The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, Jan. 1.
Winter Can Be A Bad Time For Allergy Sufferers
By Dr. Beth Miller
People often refer to spring and summer as "allergy season," but the truth is that winter allergies can be just as uncomfortable and serious for those who suffer from them. While pollen levels take a dip during the winter, other allergens can make sufferers miserable.
Common winter allergens include mold and mildew, dust mites and animal dander - all things likely to be found indoors. With houses shut up tight for winter, the colder months often mean living in a sealed environment full of concentrated allergens. Furnaces can blow around dust, mold and even insect parts trapped in their filters and vents. Pets that may spend time outdoors during warmer weather are often indoors with their humans when temperatures drop. Damp firewood can carry mold spores inside.
Signs of winter allergies are similar to those in other seasons. Coughing, dark circles under the eyes, itchy eyes and nose, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes could all indicate an allergic reaction. Allergies can be differentiated from a cold by duration and whether symptoms include fever and chills. A cold will likely disappear in several days, while allergies will continue as long as the allergen is present; while a cold will often cause fever and chills, allergies will not.
So, what can a person who suffers from winter allergies do? First, they should consider an evaluation by a physician who is a qualified allergist. An allergist can conduct testing to determine precisely allergens are triggering symptoms. Once it is determined which allergens are triggering your problems, you can begin to treat allergies through environmental and medical therapy.
Environmental therapy for allergies simply means removing the offending allergen from the person's environment. Frequent vacuuming, dusting, washing bedding in hot water and cleaning can reduce the impact of dust mites. Frequently changing out a furnace filter with a model designed for allergy sufferers can reduce the circulation of allergies by the furnace. Animal dander can be controlled through frequent bathing of pets, hepa filtering and limiting pets' access to certain areas of the house (for example, making bedrooms off-limits to animals). Mildew and mold can be controlled through cleaning and de-humidifying affected areas.
Medically, allergy sufferers may find relief through either over-the-counter or prescription medications such as nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamines, and decongestants. Those with severe allergies or allergies uncontrolled on medicines may also need to take regular "allergy shots" - injections formulated just for that person to combat their particular allergies.
An allergist can help each allergy sufferer determine the best course to reduce the impact of winter allergies. It's important to treat allergies because, left unchecked, they could contribute to more serious respiratory problems or repeated sinus infections.
Winter allergies are uncomfortable, but you don't have to live with them. Through a combination of medical attention and environmental control, winter allergy sufferers can enjoy a happy winter after all.