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During the winter, dry indoor air is often the cause of chapped lips, dry skin and irritated sinus passages. The moisture from a humidifier can soothe dry sinus passages. However, if you have indoor allergies, dust and mold from the humidifier may cause more harm than good.
The number one indoor allergen is the dust mite. Dust mites grow best where there is moisture. Moisturizing the air with a humidifier creates the perfect home for dust mites to live and prosper. Keep the humidity level in your house between 40-50%. You can monitor the levels with a hygrometer.
Mold spores can also be an issue for people with mold allergies. It is important to clean and change the filter in the humidifier on a regular basis so mold does not grow in the unit and blow into the home. Read the manufacturer instructions for tips on cleaning your humidifier.
If possible, use distilled or demineralized water in your humidifier. The higher level of minerals in tap water can increase bacteria growth, resulting in a white dust and additional irritation to your sinuses.
If you have indoor allergies, check with your allergist / immunologist to see if using a humidifier can help you and your sinuses survive winter.
By Michael Blaiss, MD
ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS about winter is that there’s no pollen in the air. All the leaves have fallen off the trees, and the grass is brown and may even be covered with snow, allowing sufferers of hay fever a reprieve from their nasal symptoms. So, you may be asking, “Why am I having constant sneezing, and my nose is itching and running during the winter months? How can that be?”
Unfortunately, for many people, the winter can be a terrible time for allergies. But since winter is “cold” season, how do you know if your nasal problems are from an allergy or a virus?
Here are some ways to help distinguish whether you have a virus or an allergy:
- Viruses may be associated with fever, while allergies never result in a fever.
- Viruses produce colored mucus from the nose, while allergies cause clear drainage.
- Viruses typically don’t have any eye symptoms, while allergies may produce watery, itchy eyes.
- Viruses may lead to sore throats and body aches, while these are not seen with allergies.
- Viruses are short-lived, usually lasting up to two weeks, while allergies may last throughout the season or longer.
If your symptoms suggest that you are miserable from a winter allergy, what could be the cause? According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, these are some of the most likely culprits:
- House dust mites: These pests are barely visible to the naked eye and grow in carpet, bedding and upholstered furniture. In the winter, they die, and their decomposed body parts and feces can trigger allergy symptoms.
- Animal dander: Your cat or dog can cause year-round allergy symptoms, but these may be more noticeable in the winter when you spend more time indoors.
- Mold spores: Like pets, molds can lead to allergy troubles all year, but especially in the cold, wet winter months. The most common locations to observe mold growth are your bathrooms and basement.
What can you do about these allergy triggers? The first step is avoidance. For house dust mites, removing the carpet from bedroom floor, washing all the bedding with hot water – at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit – removing dust collectors from the bedroom and putting mite-proof encasings on the mattress and box springs can help reduce symptoms. To avoid pet dander, always keep your pet out of your bedroom. Some studies suggest that frequent bathing of your pet is beneficial in keeping dander down to a minimum. Remember, there is no such thing is a “hypoallergenic” cat or dog. Any area where mold is growing needs to be scrubbed thoroughly, and be sure to control any moisture or water source that’s causing mold development. In a basement with mold problems, a dehumidifier can be effective.
Second, medication may be used to minimize your nasal misery. Over-the-counter medications, such as non-sedating antihistamines, like Claritin and Zyrtec, and intranasal corticosteroids, like Flonase and Nasacort, can be beneficial. These treatments don’t cure your allergies and need to be taken regularly to control the nasal symptoms. Depending on the severity of your allergies, these remedies may be enough to improve your quality of life.
What if avoidance and medication don’t work well enough, you’re having side effects from the medication or you’re just tired of using medications all the time? What can you do? If this is the case, it’s time to seek medical help from a board-certified allergist. You’ll probably require allergy testing to determine exactly what’s causing your symptoms. You may find after speaking with your allergist that you’re a candidate for allergen immunotherapy. This is a type of vaccination where you’re given small amounts of what you’re allergic to by a tablet under the tongue (house dust mites) or by injections (pets, molds, house dust mites), over a three- to five-year period. Allergen immunotherapy has been shown not only to reduce symptoms, but also to help get rid of your allergies permanently.
Most people have experienced a cough caused by a cold or flu — the kind of cough that comes on strong for a few days during an illness, and then tapers off as you start to feel better. But what if you have a cough that just won’t go away?
Find an allergist
If your cough is allergy-related, you might notice that you cough more during some seasons, or in some environments. This can be caused by the presence of allergens that may affect you.
You might also have other symptoms of allergy. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) can cause sneezing, congestion, and itchy skin, eyes and nose, as well as a cough. Congestion from allergies can also cause dark circles, called allergic shiners, to appear under your eyes.
An allergy cough is caused by your immune system’s response to an allergen, rather than by an infection like a flu or cold cough. Asthma can also cause a cough. If you are also wheezing or have tightness in your chest or shortness of breath, you may have an asthma cough. Your board-certified allergist is a specialist in helping patients find relief from symptoms like asthma and allergy cough.
Asthma and allergy coughs are typically caused by swelling or irritation of the airways.
Allergies like hay fever can cause a chronic dry cough. If you’re sensitive to dust, pet dander, pollen, mold, or other common allergens, then your allergy symptoms may include a cough. Allergies can also worsen your asthma symptoms, causing them to become severe.
Learn about some common allergy triggers and how to avoid them:
If you’re suffering from a chronic cough that might be related to allergy or asthma, it’s important to get tested. Your board-certified allergist will review your symptoms, take your detailed medical history and conduct testing to complete a diagnosis. This process helps identify the specific triggers that affect you, so you can get relief.
Skin testing is the most commonly used form of allergy testing, and it is fast and accurate. In certain circumstances, your allergist may conduct blood testing in addition to or instead of skin testing. You may also take a breathing test, which can help in diagnosing asthma.
Your test results, along with your medical history, will give your allergist the information needed to develop a treatment plan and help you find relief!
Ninety percent of chronic coughs are related to one of the following:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Postnasal drip
If your allergist rules out allergies, asthma and the conditions listed above, ask what else might be causing your chronic cough, such as:
- Blood pressure medications
- Cystic fibrosis
- Infection (viral or bacterial)
- Laryngopharyngeal reflux
- Lung cancer