Winter can bring as many allergy headaches as spring

NEW YORK — Spring and summer are not the only seasons that bring misery to those with allergies.

The end of the pollinating season is good news for everyone with hay fever and similar summer allergies, but those who are sensitive to mold spores may have to wait until the first frost to find relief.

Little indoor relief

Dr. Elizabeth Leef Jacobson, an internist with a specialty in allergy and immunology at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, reminds the cold season can be especially difficult for those who suffer from a combination of indoor allergies and asthma.

“During the winter, families spend more time indoors, exposing them to irritants like dust mites, pet dander, smoke, household sprays and chemicals, and gas fumes — any of which can make their lives miserable.”

Dr. David J. Resnick, director of allergy and immunology at New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, adds mold spores can be more of a problem than 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.”

What you can do

Jacobson and Resnick offer these tips to make the winter months more bearable for indoor allergy sufferers:

• Keep your indoor humidity level below 35 percent to help prevent the growth of mold and mites.

• Use exhaust fans when showering or cooking to remove excess humidity and odors.

• Avoid putting rugs in the bedroom, if possible, since wall-to-wall carpeting is an ideal place for dust mites to proliferate.

• Using a HEPA vacuum may also decrease dust mite and pet allergen levels.

• Replace your furnace filter every two to three months, use high-efficiency filters that can capture up to 30 times more allergens, and make sure your furnace fan is always on.

• When outdoors, keep children from playing in areas that promote mold growth, such as dark, wooded areas.

• Also, ensure both children and adult allergy sufferers wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face, as this decreases exposure to the common winter viruses.

• Use dust-proof covers for mattresses, box springs and pillows to decrease exposure to allergens, but consult your allergist before undertaking such an expense. Wash bed linens and nightclothes in hot water (above 130 degrees) to kill dust mites.

• If you must use a humidifier, keep it clean and change the water frequently to avoid contamination by mold and bacteria. Central humidifiers should be sprayed with an anti-mold agent.

• Don’t put plants in the bedroom, since decaying leaves and increased humidity can stimulate growth of mold.

• Adults and children allergic to household pets (dogs and cats) should minimize their contact with them. If you cannot remove the pets from the household, keep them out of the bedroom at all times.

• Do not exercise in the cold air if you have cold-sensitive asthma. Choose indoor exercises like swimming, as warm humid air is easier on the airways.

• Remove all dust from your holiday decorations and tree. If you buy a real tree, spray it with a garden hose before setting up in the house.

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