Many people are allergic to trees, pollen and other allergens that show up during the spring and summer, but plenty of us also experience so-called “winter allergies.”
Morning Shift spoke to allergist Dr. Baiju Malde, a clinical instructor with Northwestern Medical Group, about what causes allergic reactions during the winter and how to best diagnose, prevent and treat those allergies.
Here are some of the takeaways from the conversation.
WHAT: There are three chief types of allergens that affect people in the winter: Dust mites, mold and pet allergens, especially those found in the skin of dogs and cats, also known as pet dander.
WHY: We experience these indoor allergies more acutely in the winter because the windows are closed and heaters dry us out. Getting sick with a viral infection can exacerbate these allergies.
DIAGNOSIS: An allergy test would be able to diagnose any of these indoor allergies.
PREVENTION: For dust mites, wash sheets in hot water. High-efficiency particulate air filters — commonly called HEPA filters — will not help because dust mites fall to the ground. For dog and cat allergies, the allergen is in the animal’s skin. It’s lightweight and sticky. It floats in the air, so use a HEPA filter. It sticks to walls, so washing your walls can help. For mold, use a humidifier, but keep the humidity level in your home no higher than 35 percent. Treat any water damage or mold problems in the home immediately.
TREATMENT: First, try an over-the-counter antihistamine pill like Claritin or Allegra. If that doesn’t work, nasal steroid sprays are stronger and many, like Flonase, are available without a prescription. Nasal steroids are usually for people over age of 6 or 12. Check with a pharmacist or allergist. If necessary, a doctor may recommend allergy shots, which can be used to treat more severe allergies, including the indoor allergies that afflict people during the winter.