Is the cold weather wreaking havoc on your health?
We all know individuals who blame the weather for their achy joints, migraines and many other health woes. Do you, too, wonder why your allergies feel worse after you have been outside in chilly weather? Most medical experts agree that weather can have profound effects on asthma and allergies.
Many of us feel sniffly after being outside in the cold for too long. But for allergy sufferers, the combination of the cold air and their underlying allergies can be a double whammy. The cold weather doesn’t actually cause respiratory allergies, but by triggering common allergy symptoms of congestion and runny nose, it can make your allergies feel worse.
Breathing cold air causes nasal congestion in two ways. First of all, the cold air affects an important body defense mechanism called the mucus transport, which stimulates an increase in mucus production causing a runny nose. This is your body’s way to fend off any nasal intruders which might try to venture in. Secondly, cold air affects the tissue in your nose because it is your nose’s job to warm the air you breathe to your body temperature. When you are breathing cold air, the capillaries in your nose tissue dilate, bringing warm blood to heat the cold air. Dilated capillaries mean swollen tissue and more nasal congestion and stuffiness.
Cold air can also set off asthma attacks. Cold air alone often triggers asthma symptoms, but upper respiratory infections that are common in the wintertime can also cause asthma attacks. Although cold air by itself does not cause infections, cold air does affect the respiratory system. Despite the protection of the mucus blanket in the nose, cold air can still reach the lungs. When this happens, the lungs react by releasing histamine, which causes bronchial congestion and wheezing.
In addition to the above, winter time is peak cold and flu season and these infections can cause severe flare-ups, which can lead to potential complications including pneumonia and even hospitalization. The flu is a respiratory viral infection and spreads through the air and through direct physical contact. Not only can the flu virus live on many surfaces for up to two hours, sneezing and coughing by infected individuals spews germ-laced airborne particles into the air where they are often inhaled by nearby individuals.
Another obstacle winter provides is poorer indoor air quality due to closed doors and windows that are sealed tightly against the cold; this prevents fresh air circulation and leads to higher concentrations of indoor allergens. So for indoor allergy sufferers, winter can be the toughest season of the year. Trying to stay out of the cold means cozying up with indoor offenders such as: dust mites, mold and pet dander. Snuggling up by the fireplace where the smoke irritates the nose and lungs and turning on the central heating system can also trigger symptoms.
Tips for keeping winter allergies and asthma at bay:
It is a good idea to wear a warm scarf or mask during cold and/or damp weather, especially when you’re outside.
Wash your bed sheets weekly in hot water and invest in allergy proof covers for the bedding.
Ban pets from your bedroom.
Minimize the use of a fireplace throughout the season and ensure you have adequate ventilation.
Keep an eye on mold producing items in your home and regularly clean damp rooms such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas. Scrub refrigerators, sinks, tubs, floors and garbage cans to help prevent mold build up.
HEPA air purifiers can help reduce your exposure to allergens.
As much as possible, allow moisture to escape from the home. If possible, open windows to allow shower or cooking steam to escape and/or turn on air vents.
Consider buying a humidity gauge and if the reading is above 50%, run a dehumidifier.
Boost your immune system by eating well, getting adequate sleep, exercising, and reducing stress.
Winter is not the time to become lax about controlling the factors that could lead to an increase in your allergy or asthma symptoms. With all of the hoopla that goes on this time of the year, it’s easy to become distracted and forget to take your preventative allergy and asthma treatment, such as your medications and/or your allergy immunotherapy.
One of the most important steps to treating winter allergies is identifying your allergy and asthma triggers. Know your allergy profile and what steps you should take to control them. The most accurate way to do this is through allergy testing. If you are not feeling your best during the winter months, please contact our office and let us help you find the source of your allergy discomfort and help you feel better.