Usually, when you start sniffling and sneezing in winter you assume it is the onset of a cold or flu. However, this is not always the case as allergies can even occur during the cold season.
Cold weather and indoor conditions such as heaters, dust and insects can trigger allergies. If you are someone who suffers from sinusitis throughout the year, these conditions can also worsen your symptoms.
Living with sinusitus
Sipokazi Nkabeni, from Mfuleni in Cape Town, has dealt with sinus problems since childhood. Her symptoms are often exacerbated by conditions such as dust, wind, humidity, and cold temperatures. At first, she thought it was just a cold, but after visiting a doctor, she learned it was sinusitis.
“For some strange reason, my sinuses react worse in Cape Town. But when I’m in the Eastern Cape, it reacts better regardless of the season.”
She’s tried nasal spray, but it makes things worse, she says. The nasal spray causes her eyes to tear up, as well as dry throat and headaches.
“Texa allergy and allergy syrup have helped me control my nasal congestion.”
Overcoming winter’s woes
According to Marli Botha, product manager at Pharma Dynamics, many people are unaware that cold weather can trigger allergies, leading to symptoms like sneezing, a congested nose, wheezing, and itchy, watery eyes.
She emphasises the importance of understanding and managing these symptoms.
“Turning on the heater, for instance, makes indoor air even drier, which often leads to a dry nose and throat, cracked skin and nosebleeds. When suffering from nasal allergies, a dry nose increases one’s infection risk since your nose relies on mucus to trap viruses and prevent you from getting sick.”
Botha explains that when someone with allergies encounters a trigger, their body mistakes the trigger for an invader and launches an immune response.
She adds that the difference between a cold and a nasal allergy is that a cold is caused by a virus and clears up after a few days, while a nasal allergy is caused by the body’s immune response and can last for weeks or months.
Botha recommends using saline sprays or rinses to flush out the sinuses, as well as decongestants to relieve nasal congestion. For dry, itchy eyes, eye drops can help. If you are wheezing or having trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.
A board-certified allergist can help diagnose and treat winter allergies, possibly with immunotherapy. In addition, Texa Allergy is a trusted antihistamine available without a prescription.
Botha says while indoor allergies could worsen symptoms in winter, the common cold is another factor to contend with.
Taking back control
According to Botha, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure to winter allergens.
- Use a humidifier if dry air is a trigger. Note that too much moisture can lead to unwanted mould growth.
- Dust mites thrive in carpets, so avoid wall-to-wall carpeting. If you do have carpeted areas in your home, be sure to vacuum them regularly and give them a deep clean at least once or twice a year. Do the same with rugs and upholstered furniture. Uncarpeted surfaces also need to be vacuumed and mopped regularly. Vacuum cleaners with a high-efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) are recommended for allergy sufferers.
- Bedding should be washed weekly in hot water to kill dust mites. Use hypoallergenic cases for mattresses and pillows to keep dust mites trapped.
- Keep pet dander (dead skin flakes) to a minimum by bathing pets once a week and don’t let them into your bedroom or anyone else’s in the house who suffers from nasal allergy. If you have acute or chronic allergic rhinitis, pet hair can also trigger symptoms.
- Keep your home, especially moist areas like bathrooms, free from mould and mildew by washing it regularly with bleach detergents. When mould spores are inhaled it can trigger sneezing, congestion and itchiness.
- Cockroach droppings can also worsen symptoms. Keeping a clean home and fixing leaking taps, cracks and crevices in your home should keep them away. Don’t smoke as smoking irritates the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses, and lungs, which may make them more susceptible to infections.
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