The weather has turned from chilly to cold; so, it’s no surprise you find yourself sniffing and sneezing. It’s at this time of year that the common cold is aggressively making its rounds. But before you reach for the cough syrup, ask yourself – is it a cold or could you be suffering from an airborne allergy?
It’s not always easy to tell, particularly at this time of year. On average people spend around 90% of their time indoors and when the weather is cold it can be much more. As we avoid the elements with windows closed and heaters on, we’re more likely to be irritated by indoor allergens.
If you do have a cold virus, there’s not a huge amount you can do. Get plenty of fluids (water is the universal solvent) and perhaps take an over the counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen based treatment to ease symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist about what’s right for you. Rest up as much as you can – it will help you recover and staying in will prevent you from getting others sick too. If it’s allergies however, a totally different approach is required. At this time of year pollen isn’t the likely culprit but you might be noticing that you have a dust mite, mold, or pet dander allergy.
TIME: Generally the common cold will last for a few days or up to a week, whereas allergy discomfort can persist for weeks.
FEVER: A cold is sometimes (albeit rarely) accompanied by a mild fever, something you won’t experience with allergies. If your fever is high – then you’re probably dealing with the flu.
COUGH: “Cough” is used interchangeably to describe a cold for a reason – and with a cold, it’s usually hacking and persistent. Meanwhile, allergies don’t typically cause much coughing.
CHEST DISCOMFORT: This is rarely the result of allergies but it can be mild to moderate when you’ve got a cold.
ITCHY EYES: A typical annoyance when your allergies are acting up but almost never a part of the cold.
If it now seems like you’re having a flare up of winter allergies instead of a cold, or if you anticipate that allergy discomfort might be on the horizon, you can take steps to help ease your allergy symptoms.
To keep dust allergies to a minimum:
- Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner and also mop floors that are not carpeted.
- Launder bedsheets and pajamas in water about 130°F to kill dust mites.
- If possible, use anti-allergen pillow and mattress protectors.
- Try to keep household clutter to a minimum. Less clutter makes it much easier and faster to clean and stops dust settling in lots of hidden nooks and crannies.
- If you get a real tree for Christmas, spray it with a garden hose before bringing it inside to remove the dust. (Yes, spraying it and waiting for it to dry before putting it up is a bit labor intensive but you’ll be happy you did it!)
If mold is your trigger, keeping humidity levels down is the key to preventing mold growth:
- It is also a good idea to keep an eye on humidity levels in your home to ensure they are never above 55%. (30% to 40% is the sweet spot.) Consider investing in a hydrometer, a small battery operated device that looks very much like a digital thermometer. It works to measure humidity levels in a room. Inexpensive and easy to install, they are a great way to monitor humidity and keep it in check. (This is also good for preventing dust mites.)
- Change the water in your humidifier/dehumidifier regularly as this prevents bacteria and mold from contaminating the unit.
- Use your exhaust fan when cooking or showering to help remove additional humidity in your home.
- Conduct regular monthly surveys of your house – indoors and outdoors – to look for new mold growth.
When pet dander is your trigger, take extra care this time of year by:
- Washing hands frequently, especially after contact with pets.
- Vacuuming often also helps remove pet dander.
Your bedroom is where you spend most of your time in the house so make it a refuge, free of allergens. No matter which airborne allergies you have, consider taking the following steps:
- If possible, remove rugs and carpets which harbor contaminants from your room.
- Remove plants from your bedroom – their soil can harbor mold spores and mold is also created when plants naturally decay.
- Unfortunately, this also means you may not want to cuddle with Fido or Kitty in bed.
- Consider purchasing a medical-grade HEPA air purifier to remove a wide range of air borne pollutants, as well as allergens.
- High-efficiency furnace filters capture more allergens – install some if you can. Also, keep your furnace fan running.
Every step you take to eliminate allergens from your home can help to naturally alleviate your symptoms. Winter has enough stress – with the holidays and hazardous road conditions – don’t let allergies get you down! Happy Winter!