If you thought you had a break from allergies the moment that snow started to fall, I’ve got a bit of bad news for you… turns out winter allergies can be just as bad as those you experience in the spring, summer, and fall.
While the cold weather, freezes, and snow kill off anything that may generate pollen, these environmental factors drive us all indoors where there is a slew of different allergens just waiting. Plus, with the decreased hydration in the air and the running of heaters, these indoor allergens will also be exacerbated.
Let’s take a look at some of the common aggravators of winter allergies and how we can fight them with natural, good-for-your-body agents!
What are Winter Allergies?
It’s true that with the cold weather comes an end to the production of pollen, leaves fall from branches and turn to mulch, and those dangerous grasses die off and freeze. When outdoors, besides dry eyes and a slightly runny nose, the fresh air actually feels good!
Unfortunately, the environment of winter means more time indoors.
And more time indoors means exposure to winter allergy aggravators such as forced-air furnaces circulating “airborne dust containing lint, fabric fiber, bacteria, food material, and animal dander.” Along with these allergy stimulants, the indoors is also plagued with dust mites and cockroach droppings, two of the most common aggravators indoors.
Let’s take this a step further and break down the common winter allergens, what they are, how they manifest, and the best natural course to treating them!
Right about now, you’re thinking of skipping past this one because, well, you’re clean! Unfortunately, while the amount of dust mite activity and growth is definitely affected by cleanliness, it also has a lot to with the lack of ventilation and the increased use of forced-air heating. No matter how many times you sweep, mop, vacuum, wash bedding, and dust, you’ll still have dust mites in the house circulating through the air every time you hear that furnace kick on.
With that said, there are many tips and tricks to managing dust mites, dust mite activity, and allergic symptoms!
What are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are “close relatives of ticks and spiders,” and are known to feast upon “skin cells shed by people, and they thrive in warm, humid environments.” You can see why they gravitate towards our homes! They are the perfect incubators for these little microscopic bugs. Dust mites are generally found in “bedding, furniture, and carpeting.”
Dust Mite Symptoms
How is a dust mite allergy different from other common allergens? Not much good news here, as a dust mite allergy will manifest like any other indoor allergen with sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, itchy nose (as well as, the roof of mouth or throat), postnasal drip, cough, facial pressure and pain (caused by congestion), and swollen facial skin.
While dust mites aren’t necessarily dependent on cleanliness, if you’re suffering from a dust mite allergy, stepping up your game around the house is a great way to decrease the number of these critters!
First and foremost, make sure to regularly wash your bedding (hot water at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) and either wash or vacuum all your carpets. Even though dust mites prefer carpet, these bugs can still make their way with dusty wood floors, so make sure you sweep regularly and even try mopping on occasion. Indoor forced-air heating is another way dust mites make their way throughout the house. If you’re able to decrease the amount you use forced-air and alternative between radiant heating or individual stand-up heaters, you can also decrease dust mite migration throughout the house. This will also help with the dryness in the air!
After you’ve taken preventative steps to decrease the dust mite activity in your household, it’s time to address those symptoms. One of the best ways to reduce symptoms is with proper nasal irrigation. While you can go the medication route — chemical nasal sprays and medication — there are oftentimes nasty side effects such as fatigue and digestive disrupt.
Instead, go all-natural with a “neti pot or a specially designed squeeze bottle to flush thickened mucus and irritants from your sinuses with a prepared saltwater (saline) rinse.” Neti pots have become all the rage in the naturopathic world meaning you can easily find one that fits your needs this beautiful (nobody will know what it’s used for) Himalayan Chandra Porcelain Neti Pot for $9.99, this NeilMed NasaFlo Unbreakable Neti Pot for $13.96 for those butter-finger folks, or go all-in on this double pack SinuCleanse Nasal Wash System with Plastic Soft Tip Neti Pot for $45.01.
While dry climates are less likely to find themselves with a winter mold infestation, those cold weather climates that also happen to have high humidity — such as the pacific northwest, the east and west coasts, as well as the south — will definitely want to watch out for this one! Mold can permeate a variety of surfaces within the household, staying hidden for months, spreading and wreaking havoc on your body.
Types of Mold
Yes, there might be mold in your house, but what are the types you should look out for? Are some more virulent and dangerous than others?
When you find mold, these are important questions to ask.
First off, try to identify the type of mold. Unfortunately, there are around 12 common types broken down into either an allergen or a toxigenic. While both need to be removed, it’s incredibly important to be wary of the toxigenic variety, as these can make you very sick. Allergen molds include alternaria, aspergillus, aureobasidium, chaetomium, cladosporium, mucor, penicillium, and trichoderma. The toxigenic molds include stachybotrys (AKA Black Mold), ulocladium, and acremonium. And then, there’s fusarium, which happens to be both an allergen and toxigenic.
When it comes to a mold allergy, you’ll most likely manifest similar symptoms as an upper respiratory allergy or infection.
Simply put, these are very similar to most other indoor allergies such as sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, cough, postnasal drip, itchy eyes and throat, and dry skin. Yet, with mold another common symptom is a headache, which is slightly different from other indoor allergies.
In order to prevent mold to grow, you’ll want to keep your house on the lower humidity level — below 50 percent — fix any drainage issues or leaky pipes, and “immediately wipe down wet surfaces, especially in the bathrooms and kitchen.” Great insulation can help reduce “condensation on cold surfaces” such as windows and interiors of walls. Clean your rugs! Molds become “trapped in carpet and rugs, and dampness can accumulate between the concrete and pad/carpet, creating an environment for dust mites and mold.”
Regularly check closets, cupboards, under sinks, basements, attics, and any other dark, secure, and warm location. If you find mold, make sure to identify it and clean it appropriately based upon its toxicity — this means heavy-duty cleansers, face masks, eye cover, and gloves!
While humidifiers are super handy to treat cold weather dryness, they are also one of the worst items to have in the house in regards to treating mold. If you live in a damp, high-humidity environment, think twice before using a humidifier.
There’s a variety of medicinal treatments for mold allergies including antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, and oral decongestants, yet how about trying to fight these symptoms naturally?
Start off with reducing your exposure via preventative techniques, try a neti pot (mentioned in the dust mite section), and, if you still need a bit of help, how a out investing in some herbal supplements? For instance, “garlic is one of the most well known anti-fungal herbs available” and can be a great natural agent to help your body fight mold — such as these Sports Research Odorless Garlic Oil Pills for $14.95 or these Pure Mountain Botanicals Garlic Pills for $16.77. Garlic isn’t the only natural anti-fungal, oregano and tea tree oils have also been known anti-fungal agents. Try this Gaia Herbs Oil of Oregano Vegan Liquid Capsules for $29.88 or this Art Naturals Tea Tree Essential Oil for $14.95.
It’s not necessarily the cockroaches that you’re allergic too, but, even worse, their feces.
Cockroaches are an unfortunate part of our communities, no matter how small or large. If there is a dark corner with some food, they’ll find it. In fact, per the National Pest Management Association, “63% of homes in the United States contain cockroach allergens” and in cities or urban areas, “that number rises to between 78% and 98% of homes.”
What are Cockroaches?
Alright, most of us know exactly what a cockroach is, whether it’s from personal contact, movies, or horror stories from friends and family.
Just in case, here’s the down-low on these bugs!
First off, there’s not just one cockroach — there are, in fact, 30 different cockroach species. These pests are “an ancient group, dating back at least as far as the Carboniferous period, some 320 million years ago.” Yep! These creatures have lasted and lasted and lasted, which means they’re super hardy and “can tolerate a wide range of environments from Arctic cold to tropical heat.”
Like other indoor allergens, a reaction to cockroach feces includes coughing, nasal congestion, and wheezing. Yet, this type of allergy goes a few steps further. If you develop a skin rash, ear infection, or sinus infection, then this may be a sign of a cockroach allergy.
Cleanliness goes a very long way in reducing the chance of cockroaches in your home. Make especially sure that your kitchen floors, sinks, counters, and your stove is clean of crumbs and leftover food, along with any pantry or cupboards. It’s recommended to “keep food containers and garbage cans sealed,” fix any “leaks that could unknowingly give cockroaches access to water,” and try your best to “avoid piles — of newspaper, laundry, magazines, or dirty dishes.”
If you don’t want to call an exterminator and don’t want toxic chemicals used in your house, there are a few natural agents that can be deployed such as boric acid and powdered sugar. Using these natural agents, you can create your own roach traps. The powdered sugar acts as a lure and the boric acid kills cockroaches while not being “toxic to people or pets.”
If you have a legitimate cockroach allergy, then it’s important to speak with your doctor about preventative measures and treatment.
With that said, if you’re getting a sniffly nose and itchy eyes from cockroach feces, then there are natural agents to fight the symptoms. We’ve already talked about decongesting your nasal passageways with a neti pot and fighting fungal infections with garlic, oregano oil, and tea tree oil, but we haven’t taken on one of the peskiest of irritants — dry and itchy eyes!
First off, if you really want to go cheap and natural, start out with placing either a cold or warm compress over your eyes. You can go back and forth or stick with one depending on the amount of relief you receive. Using a humidifier — such as this Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier for $39.99 — is also a great way to keep those eyes moisturized. Keep in mind that a humidifier can increase the likelihood of other indoor allergens such as mold, dust mites, and cockroaches, so use with care!
Yet, what are you supposed to do at work or when you’re out and about? This is where eye drops come in handy! Plus, you can find all-natural eye drops such as this double pack of Dexterity Health Liquid MSM Eye Drops for $18.97.
Beating Indoor Allergies with Nutrition
While you may be set with the natural agents listed above, how about integrating healthy plant-based foods into your diet? Certain vitamins and minerals are superpowers when it comes to boosting the immune system and fighting foreign agents that take hold during these winter months. On top of that, certain compounds, such as capsaicin in hot chili peppers, can help to naturally decongest that stuffed nose of yours. Here are a few recipes to get you through to Spring!
Alright, so we all know that vitamin C is super important to boost your body’s immune system and stave off the common cold, but did you know there are better sources than an orange? Yes, oranges a great and vitamin C filled, but they are also very rich in fructose — also known as sugar. Maybe you want vitamin C, but you don’t want the added sugar rush? Try strawberries! Berries are fruits with some of the lowest fructose content and some of the highest antioxidant content.
Plus, it’s the holidays and strawberries are the perfect sweet, affordable, and delicate ingredient for baking such as these 7-Ingredient Peanut Butter Chickpea Blondies, these Pink and White Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, this No Churn Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream, or this Raw Cheesecake with Strawberry Compote.
These peppers are not only known for these spicy heat but, due to said heat, they are also known for their capsaicin. This compound is found in most chili peppers and has been linked to pain relief. Plus, when it comes to those indoor winter allergies, it’s a fun and tasty way to help naturally decongest that nose of yours!
Remember that whole garlic-anti-fungal thing? Well, it’s the time of year to get as much of that superpower as possible. From cockroach droppings to microscopic dust mites to mold spores, you’ll want to boost your body’s defenses to the max while you’re trapped indoors for the next four or five months. Luckily, garlic is an amazingly tasty aromatic herb that can be introduced to a variety of recipes.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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