What to know about fall and winter allergies
While allergies are often associated with warmer weather and high pollen counts, they can be just as bothersome in the fall and winter. Allergens like mold, dust mites and animal dander are the typical cause of allergy symptoms that occur during fall and winter months.
Allergies are immune responses to things in the environment that are benign, such as pollens and animal dander. The main manifestations of airborne allergies are allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and asthma. Patients with allergic rhinitis can develop symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, post-nasal drip, stuffy nose, nasal itching, sore throat and cough. Allergic conjunctivitis typically results in red, itchy, watery eyes, and asthma can produce symptoms like cough, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Molds are important allergens that may be present outdoors or indoors. They grow under conditions of high moisture and outdoor molds peak when leaves drop in the fall. These molds are important causes of fall allergies and can worsen respiratory symptoms in mold-allergic asthmatics. It is important for mold-allergic patients to wear a mask when raking leaves, as this can help to minimize exposure. Indoor mold can be found in damp basements, bathrooms, and areas of water damage. These are associated with year round allergies and can sometimes lead to more severe manifestations of allergy in asthmatics. Small areas of mold can be cleaned with a dilute bleach solution. However, professional mold remediation may be advisable, particularly in cases with large areas of mold or households with severely allergic patients.
Dust mites are extremely common allergens that are found in almost all households in this part of the country. They can be found in house dust, bedding, carpets, and other forms of fabric. Our main exposure comes from breathing in dust mite particles from our pillows and mattresses while sleeping. As a result, dust mite allergic patients often wake up with symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, and post-nasal drip. Dust mite-proof pillow and mattress covers can reduce exposure to dust mites, and washing bedding in hot water regularly can help to keep dust mite levels low.
Allergies to furry animals like cats and dogs are common. The allergens are typically found in animal dander, saliva, and urine. Animal allergens become airborne very easily and stay in the air for long periods of time. Pet owners can minimize allergen exposure by keeping the animals out of the bedroom. In addition, air filters with a HEPA filter can help to remove animal allergens from the air.
If you suffer from allergies, a number of treatment options are available. Oral antihistamines are often used for mild symptoms, while nasal corticosteroids can be helpful for more persistent symptoms. Patients with asthma may benefit from inhalers, which can be used on an as needed basis or daily, depending on severity of symptoms. Patients with persistent allergies are often excellent candidates for allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy), which can provide long term relief of allergy symptoms. Our clinic can help to diagnose and treat your allergies.
Faoud Ishmael, MD, PhD, is a board certified allergy and immunology physician with Mount Nittany Physician Group Allergy & Immunology, and offers particular expertise in allergy management and testing, including testing for allergies related to foods and medicines.