Have a Sneeze-Free, Wheeze-Free WinterSpring and fall are not the only seasons that prove troublesome for those with allergies & asthma. Winter weather causes people to spend more time indoors, where a host of household allergens can be found. For people with asthma, cold air and outdoor winter activities can worsen asthma symptoms. Fortunately, there are things you can do to have a sneeze-free, wheeze-free winter.
Even though freezing temperatures bring an end to seasonal pollen allergies, millions of people experience indoor allergies because of the time spent indoors during cool weather. A home can actually contribute to allergy symptoms. Some common symptoms of indoor winter allergies are sneezing; runny or stuffy nose; coughing; postnasal drip; and itchy eyes, nose, and throat. The following tips can help you keep your home free of wintertime allergens and irritants:
♦ Clean regularly.
There is no widely recognized guideline for how often you should dust and vacuum your home, but a solid cleaning once a week should help keep dust and allergen levels down. Use a damp mop for cleaning hard floors to avoid stirring up dust.
♦ Avoid exposure.
If you are the one who is experiencing allergy or asthma symptoms during the winter months, have someone else in your house do the dusting and vacuuming. When you vacuum and dust, allergens get kicked up into the air, and you can be affected if you’re around. If you can, leave the house while the cleaning is being done.
Winter weather causes people to spend more time indoors, where a host of household allergens can be found.
♦ Crack a window.
It may help to open a window or door on warmer days. Especially try to air out your house right after cleaning so the allergens and dust you’ve kicked up have a place to escape.
♦Watch out for mold.
Mold can be an irritant for some people, so be on the lookout for moisture. Good insulation can help cut down on mold by reducing condensation on cold surfaces, and drying wet surfaces can keep mold from growing. Also, make sure you use your bathroom ventilation fan if you have one or crack a window while showering to let the moisture escape. If you have mold, clean it up using soap and water, and then follow up with a diluted bleach mixture.
♦ Beware of gas ranges.
Using gas stoves and cooktops releases nitrogen oxides into the air. These nitrogen oxides can irritate the lungs of individuals with asthma or other lung health issues. If you have a gas stove, make sure you use the ventilation hood in your kitchen or crack a window while cooking.
Exercise-Induced Asthma and Cold Weather Activities
Unfortunately for people with asthma, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and other winter sports have more than snow and ice in common – they also involve exposure to cold air, which is an asthma trigger for some people.
As with most forms of allergies, prevention is the best way to control exercise-induced asthma. This is also true for these winter sports. Fortunately, exercise-induced asthma can be controlled in most cases by using your physician-prescribed asthma inhalers before exercising. (Check with your doctor before changing any treatment regimen.) These are safe, easy to use, and effective.
Taking the time to warm up before exercise is important, as well. By taking some time to warm up your body with light activity, you’ll have some added protection, because the body produces chemicals that protect against bronchospasm. This is not to be done instead of using your inhaler, but in addition to it. Both of these steps will lead to a better experience in these cold weather sports, as they do in all other sports.
Coughing and wheezing, followed by shortness of breath, are signs a person may have exercise-induced asthma. These symptoms usually appear 5 to 20 minutes after finishing the activity. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.
Additional tips for preventing exercise-induced asthma during winter sports include wearing a mask or scarf to warm cold air before breathing it; taking asthma medication 15 to 30 minutes before skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, or participating in other winter activities; and warming up 30 minutes before starting any cold-weather exercise or activity.
Source: National Jewish Health, www.nationaljewish.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2011-2012.