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Mention seasonal allergies and most people think of pollen in the spring, summer, or fall. But winter can heap its own share of allergens on you as you spend more time indoors and keep your house tightly sealed. If you're sneezing and snuffling when the snow falls and you don't have a cold, you may be suffering from one of these common winter allergies.
Mold is one of the biggest triggers of winter allergies. Mold thrives on dampness and humidity, especially prevalent in basements, kitchens, and bathrooms. Keep indoor air relatively dry (below 50 percent humidity) with a dehumidifier to discourage mold growth. Wipe up standing water and address plumbing leaks promptly. Limit the number of houseplants you keep indoors, as mold grows in their soil. Use exhaust fans while you shower to reduce moisture on bathroom walls and ceilings. If mold does accumulate on your bathroom walls, flip on the exhaust fan, don rubber gloves and an inexpensive filtration mask, and wipe it off using a soft cloth and a 5-percent solution of bleach (or try a natural mold removal remedy). No need to rinse. If the mold has penetrated deeper than the surface level, you may need to replace your drywall.
Since Boots and Fido probably spend more time indoors during the cold months, more pet dander settles into your carpets and furniture, setting off pet allergies. Keep pets off the furniture and especially out of your bedroom. Wash your hands after touching pets, their bedding or playthings.
Dust mites--microscopic creatures that feed on dead skin cells--breed in carpets, furniture, and especially bedding. Help control these allergens by sealing your beds and pillows with special impermeable casings available in most home-furnishing stores. Wash bed linens and pajamas in hot water once a week to kill dust mites. If you can't rip up the carpets, clean them frequently with a HEPA-filtrated vacuum.
Clean ventilation ducts and replace furnace filters every two or three months. Keep clutter to a minimum, since that provides even more surface area for dust--and dust mites--to accumulate.
Indoor fumes, from cigarette smoke, fireplaces, or household cleaning products, can irritate your airways and set off allergy symptoms. If you can't live without your wood-burning fireplace, keep the flues scrupulously clean and don't store firewood indoors. Or switch to a gas-powered version, which is less likely to trigger allergies. Try natural cleaning products, or wear a filtration mask while you clean.
If you have allergies, take your medication with you when you visit others, especially if you'll be staying in their homes overnight.
Just because you're trapped indoors most of the winter doesn't have to mean you're trapped with your winter allergies. Try these suggestions and see if you aren't breathing easier.
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Web M.D.: "Winter Allergies" http://www.webmd.com/allergies/winter-allergies
MedicineNet.com: "Indoor Allergies Common in Winter" http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=109701
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