Winter is here, the nights are creeping up fast, the weather is getting frostier and at some point soon you will inevitably be struck down with the usual snivels and sneezes indicating the onset of a dreaded cold. Just in time to ruin your Christmas cheer. But how can you be so sure it is a cold that you are suffering from over the festive season?
If you are suffering from symptoms that include sneezing, coughing, a blocked and stuffy nose, watery, itchy eyes and throat it could in fact be a winter allergy playing havoc with your respiratory system.
Much like pollen in the hayfever season, there are several allergens that are common around the home like dust mites and pet hair. During the colder months, we tend to spend more time indoors, with windows closed resulting in poor ventilation around the home. This means that not only are you more likely to come into contact with a higher level of these allergens, but the dry environment caused by central heating dries your nasal passages, preventing the nose from functioning effectively and making you more susceptible to an allergic reaction when the allergens are inhaled.
The best way to tell if you are suffering from a cold or an allergic reaction is based on the period of time the symptoms persist. Quite simply a cold will usually last no longer than a week but a winter allergy can cause the symptoms to go on considerably longer. If you find that your symptoms are lasting longer than a week you may want to consult your Dr to explore a potential allergy a bit further.
If you do suffer from a winter allergy, here are some common but unexpected allergy triggers around the festive period and some top tips on how to avoid them to ensure your allergies don’t ruin your Christmas cheer:
Wool contains Lanolin which is a natural oil and a common cause of wool allergy and sensitivity. While the usual giveaway for this kind of allergy would be a skin rash, wearing a layer between the jumper and skin can reduce this considerably if not completely. A wool allergy will however also result in the nasal symptoms and eye irritation associated with winter allergies.
How to avoid it – Unfortunately, the best way to prevent all the symptoms is to avoid wearing woolly Christmas jumpers all together. Bad news for some but great news for others. Just make sure you remind all your friends and family to avoid any awkward woolly gifts moments.
Real Christmas trees can be covered in tiny mould spores and also contain a group of chemicals called Terpenes which can cause allergic reactions. A previous study by Dr Lawrence Kurlandsky actually found 53 types of mould on 23 trees. Christmas trees are not the only culprit for this though. Mould thrives in warm, damp environments like bathrooms, kitchens and window sills over winter months.
How to avoid it – Opt for a fake Christmas tree, if not, ensure you wash the tree thoroughly before you bring it into the home. When possible try not to dry clothing in the house or ensure the room is well ventilated to keep the damp to a minimum, ensure kitchen and bathroom surfaces are clean. You can also use an air purifier in the rooms you are spending lots of time in.
Chances are your festive decorations will have been sitting in storage gathering dust, the ideal breeding ground for dust mites which are one of the most common causes of indoor allergies.
How to avoid it – Dust off your decorations outdoors and ideally ask someone else to do this for you. Ensure all the decorations are clean and dust free before you start putting them up around the house.
If you think you may suffer from winter allergies there are a couple of products you can stock up on to help prevent and minimise the symptoms.
A salt water nasal spray like Stérimar Nasal Hygiene (From £3.99, available in Boots and pharmacies) is clinically proven to not only wash away the allergens from the nose to effectively relieve symptoms, but also helps to restore the nose’s natural functions. This ensures your first line of defence is in top working condition to filter and trap allergens effectively, and help reduce the risk of allergic reactions and chronic conditions developing. It is 100% natural as well so won’t interfere with any other medication or make you drowsy during the party season. Can be used from 3 months, during pregnancy and for people who cannot take medication. Visit www.sterimarnasal.co.uk
Eye drops like Otrivine Antistin (RRP £4.48 from Boots and your local pharmacist) help to relieve redness and itching of the eyes. The two active ingredients work together to relieve the redness and itching of the eye due to house dust allergies. One or two drops should be administered into the eye two to three times a day for up to seven days.