Myth: The hot summer months are when allergy and asthma sufferers have the most flare-ups.
Fact: Asthma patients actually need more medication during cold winter months, said Dr. Clifford Bassett, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Long Island College Hospital.
It turns out the more time you spend indoors, the more you are breathing in dangerous indoor allergens, such as dust mites (which multiply when you turn up the heat), animal dander and mold (spores can live on Christmas tree branches or other indoor plants).
“There is no pollen right now,” Bassett said. “But there are a lot of indoor allergens. People are exposed to Christmas trees, pets, candles, cigarette smoke. In the winter, we spend more time indoors than anything else we do.”
Regardless of how often you clean your house, dust will always be present. House dust is a mixture of particles that comes from just about everywhere — outside soil, hair, dust mites, insect waste — you name it.
And, yes, you are breathing that all in.
Bassett suggested these house-cleaning tips:
— Encase your pillows, mattress and box springs with allergen-impermeable slip covers to lock out dust mites
— Wash your bedding in hot water every seven days
— If possible, replace carpeting with hardwood floors or tiles
— Vacuum frequently using a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA)
— If you choose to use carpeting, buy one that is free of formaldehyde
— Keep the humidity inside your house at less than 40 to 45 percent. You can measure this with a hygrometer
Stress and Asthma
Often we feel more stressed in the winter months, Bassett said, which definitely plays a role in asthma symptoms.
If you are feeling stressed, your respiratory passages can tighten, which can trigger an asthma attack, Bassett said.
If this is the case, try coping with yoga or meditation.
If you found that your allergies or asthma symptoms seemed worse than usual this winter, particularly around Christmastime, it’s possible the tree could have been responsible, Bassett said. He suggested buying an artificial tree next Christmas.
Winter decorations are often stored throughout the year in the basement, which is damp, and therefore also harbors molds, so Bassett said you store them in plastic bags on shelves – never on the floor.
Candles and incense are often used during the winter months, and they can trigger allergy symptoms, so Bassett suggested using soy or beeswax candles.
“Respiratory viral infections are also frequent co-conspirators that are responsible for a higher number of children suffering from worsening asthma in the winter months,” Bassett said. “So don’t forget the flu shot.”