Winter allergies – is it more than just the cold snap making you sneeze?
Is keeping warm making you ill?
Is your central heating causing your coughs and colds?
Is too much cooking polluting your home?
Is hiding from the cold outside making you feel worse?
Is a lack of sunshine giving you the doldrums, and even making you gain weight?
Is drying your clothes making you cough?
The approach of the colder months fills most of us with dread: coughs, colds, sneezes, and a general reluctance to even get out of bed!
And while we tend to accept many of these complaints as being part and parcel of winter, many of us could be suffering needlessly. People tend to associate allergies with the summer months, but in reality, allergies can get far worse in winter – and many of us could be victims without even knowing it.
The allergies that affect people most during the winter are dust mite, mould and pet allergies. Chemically and electrically sensitive people can also suffer more because they are spending more time inside. Here is our guide to the ways that winter can make you feel worse – and what, according to Maxima Skelton, owner of pioneering allergy business The Healthy House, you can do about them.
As winter approaches we tend to spend more time inside with the windows closed. This can increase levels of pollutants in the home. For example, if you have a gas stove the pollution level in the kitchen may be higher than it is on a busy city street. When the heating goes on chemically sensitive people can start to react to formaldehyde being offgassed from painted radiators and, if you have new carpets and furnishings, the offgassing from treatments on them also adds to the chemical cocktail. Cleaning products and commonly available toiletries are full of pollutants themselves and add to the toxins in the indoor air.
Always take care to ventilate the house well, opening the windows and letting the stale air out and fresh air in. If your radiators are offgassing, they can be painted with Anti-formaldehyde radiator paint, which neutralises the VOCs (volatile organic compunds) coming from the older paint.
If airing the house is not sufficient, the addition of an effective air purifier will remove particles and odours from the air. There are also air purifiers specifically designed to remove chemicals and VOCs.
Make a change from using pollutant laden cleaning and bathroom products to natural or organic products that do not contain harsh chemicals. This in itself will make a difference to the levels of pollutants in the air and to which your skin is being exposed.
Filter your water to remove chlorine and heavy metals. As hot bath water, shower water, and even washing up water is running the chlorine offgasses in the steam.
Take care when purchasing products for your home, considering the treatments that bedding and furnishings may have been exposed to. It is not easy to determine what treatments products have had. Unless they say they are organic and untreated, suspect that they have been treated. Mattresses, duvets pillows and bed linen, curtains, carpets and household furnishings have commonly been treated with a range of chemicals – fire retardants, fungicides, stain resistant and easy care treatments.
Dust Mite and Mould Allergy
Dust mites need mould and moisture to survive and multiply. During the winter months the humidity level in many homes rises, making an ideal breeding ground for moulds and the proliferation of dust mites causing problems for allergic people. With the doors and windows closed humidity from general everyday activities accumulates – from the steam from baths and showers, from drying laundry and from cooking .
Many people don’t realise that dust mites are causing them a problem. The most usual symptoms are congestion, wheezing, asthma and rhinitis particularly in the morning but dust mites can also exacerbate eczema as the broken skin is more susceptible to the dust mite allergen. So many people suffer from nasal problems and many think it’s ‘just how they are’ and don’t consider that there might not only be a cause but also a solution.
Dust mite proof mattress, pillow and duvet cases can make a huge difference because they create a barrier between the person in the bed and the dust mites in the bedding thus eliminating exposure to the allergen.
Dust mites need mould and moulds need moisture to grow so airing out the house and keeping the humidity level below 50 is essential if you suffer from dust mite or mould allergy. A dehumidifier is a must if your humidity is regularly much over 50%.
The Healthy House now offers MouldCheck kits to check the number of mould colonies in a particular room. The Airfree air sterilisers destroy 99% of particles passing through the ceramic core. Within 14 – 21 days the levels of allergens and microorganisms are reduced by 85% and from then on are kept to a minimum.
Pet allergy can also seem to cause more problems in the winter because the pet hairs and allergen can build up in an enclosed space. And because of the bad weather outside, some of us spend less time out with the dog than maybe we should!
PetalCleanse is a solution that is to be wiped over your pet’s coat once a week. This removes the allergens from the pet’s coat, moisturising and conditioning it at the same time. For contact allergy (such as eczema or contact dermatitis) this works immediately. For reactions to allergens in the air, it can take up to three weeks though using AirCleanse, HomeCleanse and FabriCleanse in conjunction with the PetalCleanse, can help make these treatments rapidly effective.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is now a well-known condition, where the body reacts to deprivation from natural sunlight. Its symptoms can range from feeling a bit down-in-the-dumps through to loss of libido, sleep problems and a craving for carbs – resulting in weight gain.
S.A.D. is connected to the body’s production of Melatonin and Serotonin. Melatonin is the hormone that is related to sleep and darkness, while the production of Serotonin is triggered by sunlight or bright light therapy. A light box replaces the bright light that we lack over the winter months helping the body to produce Serotonin which boosts energy and generally helps one feel more cheerful.
Maxima, who has herself suffered from severe sensitivities and even seen her baby daughter hospitalised from allergies, knows exactly how it feels when your body reacts badly to the world around it.
She says: “People often associate allergies with hayfever and the summer months, but in our experience, it is winter when the real problems starts. The body sometimes simply suffers from overload. Think of the body as a container ship with a few too many containers on it – dust mites, pollens, pet allergens, chemicals, moulds, and foods – causing the boat or the body to give up and start to sink or to react. By removing a container or two (or a few of the allergens), the boat is raised in the water and goes on its way, allowing the body to build up and can cope better. Coughs and colds are a normal part of life – but for many people, they may get far worse in winter. There are solutions out there, and no need to suffer in silence.”
- The Healthy House is based in the Cotswolds and has supported around 50,000 allergy sufferers through advice, guidance and products
- Maxima herself suffered from extreme chemical sensitivities, and both her children were made very sick from food, chemical and environmental reactions
- It is estimated that around 30% of the population will suffer from an allergy, with around half being children
- The UK now has the highest rates of asthma in the developed world
- Hospital admissions for allergy related illnesses increased by 32% in the 10 years between 1998 and 2008
- Allergies and sensitivities can be brought about in response to a variety of things, such as dust mites, mould, synthetic materials such as foam rubber and gas-emitting products, chemicals, foodstuffs and pollen. As well as more commonly known complaints such as eczema, asthma and hay fever, they can cause a vast range of symptoms – depression, fatigue, insomnia, pain, rashes and digestive issues