We've entered the cold and flu season and many people have already been afflicted. But not every sneeze and cough is caused by a cold. Sometimes it's winter allergies that are contributing to the misery.
While allergies are often thought to act up only in the spring and summer, the winter months can be brutal for people sensitive to mold spores and dust mites.
"During the winter, families spend more time indoors, exposing allergic individuals to allergens and irritants like dust mites, pet dander, smoke, household sprays and chemicals, and gas fumes -- any of which can make their lives miserable," said Dr. William Reisacher, director of The Allergy Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
And then there is mold. Mold spores can cause additional problems compared with pollen allergy because mold grows anywhere and needs little more than moisture and oxygen to thrive. During the holiday season it is especially important to make sure that Christmas trees and holiday decorations are mold-free.
If you or someone in your household suffers from allergies, here are some winter-time preventive steps you might consider:
- Turn on the exhaust fan when showering or cooking to remove excess humidity and odors.
- Clean your carpets with a HEPA vacuum to decrease dust mites and pet allergen levels.
- Wash your hands after playing with the family pet and avoid touching your face to decrease exposure to common winter viruses.
- Launder your bed linens and pajamas in hot water (above 130 degrees) to kill dust mites.
- Treat your bedroom as the allergy "safe haven" of your home because this is where you may spend most of your time. Your bedroom should have the fewest allergy triggers so keep pets, carpets, rugs and plants out of this room to avoid dust mites and mold from decaying plants. You may also want to place an allergenic barrier around your pillows and mattress to create a barrier between dust mites and your nose.
- Spray your live Christmas tree with a garden hose before setting it up and remove all dust from your holiday decorations.
- Install high-efficiency furnace filters: they capture 30 times more allergens, and make sure your furnace fan is always on.
- Keep your indoor humidity level between 30-40%, with the help of a humidifier or dehumidifier, to help prevent the growth of mold and mites.
- Change the water and filters in your humidifier according to manufacturer recommendations to avoid contamination by mold and bacteria.
- Perform an indoor and outdoor survey of the house every month to look for visible mold and identify areas that are at high-risk for mold formation, such as a pile of firewood close to the house or an area of the basement with a musty odor.