5 Allergens to Watch Out for This Winter

Winter means that more people are staying indoors to avoid the cold. What many people may not know is that they can be exposed to indoor allergens that are lurking within their home.
11/30/2014 11:21 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2015

Many people believe that as the spring and fall seasons wrap, so do their allergies. But the truth is that they are mistaken. While the onslaught of colder weather and freezing temperatures brings an end to seasonal pollen allergies, it doesn't mean that your environment is free of allergens.

Especially in New York City, winter means that more people are staying indoors to avoid the cold. What many people may not know is that they can be exposed to indoor allergens that are lurking within their home. And, with the holidays around the corner, there are a few common triggers such as Christmas trees or fireplaces that can contribute to those unwanted allergens.

Add to this the fact that winter allergies and the common cold have many similar symptoms and you have the makings of one unpleasant season if you're an allergy sufferer. But don't worry! Here are a few tips on what allergens people with allergies should be mindful of this winter.

Dust & Dust mites
What: Microscopic, allergy symptom-inducing dust mites lurk in bedding, mattresses, carpets, and upholstered furniture.

Tip: Use dust-proof covers on mattresses, box springs, and pillows to avoid exposure and regularly wash bed linens in hot water to kill dust mites. Vacuum all carpeted areas at least twice a week and install HEPA filters to improve air quality and consider using a dehumidifier to keep humidity in the home below 50 percent, which helps to control dust mites.

Mold
What: Mold grows in damp environments like basements and bathrooms and can be present both indoors and outdoors. Airborne molds can cause asthma symptoms and allergic rhinitis.

Tip: To combat mold the EPA recommends fixing plumbing problems or leaks, increasing ventilation in damp areas, and scrubbing mold off surfaces using water and detergent, and drying completely.

Mold can hide in many places in the home, including under carpets, on ceiling tiles, in showers, and behind wallpaper, dry wall, or paneling. When mold grows outdoors, it grows in dark, wooded areas, so thoroughly inspect any firewood you plan to bring into your home. And, as much as you may want to jump in that leaf pile, remember that leaf piles are a breeding ground for mold.

Animal dander
What: All warm-blooded pets, such as cats, dogs, birds, and rodents, have dead skin cells, also known as animal dander. Colder weather usually means that both people and animals are indoors more often. Increased exposure to animal dander can lead to an increase in allergy symptoms. Allergies to pets are caused when a person has a reaction to proteins found in the animal's saliva, skin cells or urine. The reaction usually occurs when people are exposed to these proteins.

Tip: Pets should be kept out of bedrooms and other highly-used areas in the home to reduce exposure, and they should be bathed once a week.

Christmas trees
What: While Christmas trees themselves may not be the source of allergic reactions, they can harbor mold spores and microscopic allergens that cause allergies.

Tip: People bringing a Christmas tree into their home this winter should try to hose off the tree and let it dry before bringing it into the house to get rid of as many mold spores as possible. Another idea would be to use an artificial or reusable tree to eliminate the chance of bringing mold spores from live trees into the home. The one thing you need to be cautious of when using an artificial tree is dust depending on how and where you store it year over year. Be sure to give it a through cleaning before it's brought into the home.

Smoke and Pollutants
What: As mentioned, firewood brought into the home can contain mold spores. Wood burned in a fireplace can release irritating smoke and other airborne pollutants into the home environment, potentially causing allergic rhinitis or asthma symptoms.

Tip: Be sure that when bringing in any firewood into the home that it's been cleaned and checked for mold. In addition, when starting any fire, be sure that the chimney damper is open so that no unwanted smoke comes into the home.

The best way for a person to handle winter allergies is also the simplest: understand what triggers allergy symptoms and control them with avoidance.