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What You Can Do for Winter Allergies and Asthma

It's Time to Take Control

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Updated: September 5, 2008

The good news is, there is no reason why you just have to "grin and bear it" during the winter with allergies and asthma symptoms. There are easy steps you can take to keep symptoms from interfering with your life, work and school. A combination of preventive actions and medication are usually all it will take.

Preventive Actions You Can Take

Here are some of the best preventive actions you should work on:
  • Pay attention to weather forecasts for your area. When the weather is especially dry and cold or wet and rainy, it may make sense to stay indoors as much as you can. If you must go outdoors in cold weather, wear a neck scarf or gaiter that you can pull up over your mouth to warm the air you breathe in.

  • Maintain a clean environment. Vacuum and dust the house at least weekly to keep dust mites and other allergens from settling.

  • Avoid having wood fires in the home if you are sensitive to smoke. If you don't want to stop using your fireplace or woodstove, then at least make sure it's well-maintained and vented.

You'll find a number of other strategies for avoiding mold here and for avoiding dust mites. There are a few more tips on avoiding pet dander and secondhand smoke here.

Medications You Can Take

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat winter allergies and asthma. For asthma, you should be taking your inhaled steroid every day as prescribed to prevent symptoms, and using your rescue inhaler if symptoms do arise. (If you need to use it twice a week or more, though, it's time to call the doctor for a more effective preventive medicine.) Medications used to treat winter allergy symptoms can include:

  • Oral Antihistamines. Antihistamines are the most tried and true medications for treating most allergy symptoms. They work directly on the underlying allergic response. They can include first-generation medicines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlortrimeton (chlorpheniramine). These are cheap and available over the counter and generally effective but can make you feel drowsy. The newer antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are effective and nonsedating but may be more expensive. Claritin and Zyrtec are both available over the counter, but Allegra is not. Some antihistamines are also combined with a decongestant to combat nasal congestion.

  • Nasal decongestant sprays. These can work well for relieving nasal symptoms on a short-term basis, but they cannot be safely used throughout the fall allergy season. If they are used too much, they can actually make nasal symptoms worse.

  • Nasal steroid sprays or nasal chromolyn sodium. These prescription nasal sprays, such as Flonase, are some of the most effective medicines, and because they act only where needed, they are also some of the safest.

  • Eye drops. There is a wide variety of eye drops that can be used for eye allergies. Use caution in using drops, such as Visine Allergy, though, as they can make symptoms worse if overused. Natural tears type eye drops are the gentlest and may work for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms may respond well to an antihistamine eye drop, such as Alaway or Zaditor, both of which are available over the counter. There are also prescription eye drops available that may be helpful.

For those who want a more "natural" approach, a saline nasal rinse/irrigation is both gentle and effective. The idea is to wash out molds, other allergens and mucus from the nasal passages by flushing them with salt water (saline). These preparations are available over the counter in most drug stores.

In Summary

If your allergies and asthma get worse in the winter months, don't feel as though you just have to suffer. Take action! You can feel better and continue to live a full and active life, even in the face of winter allergies. Talk to your doctor to develop an allergy and asthma management plan that makes sense for you. If you take an oral antihistamine, it can take up to 2 weeks for it to reach full effectiveness, so be sure to take it regularly if you expect winter allergies to be an issue for you.

When you have allergies, it's important to stay on top of the symptoms, so that you can nip them in the bud quickly. When nasal allergies spiral out of control, asthma often follows, even if it has been stable before.

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Allergic Rhinitis." . AAAAI. 13 Apr 2008

AAAAI, "Tips to remember: indoor allergens." American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 01 January 2006. AAAAI. 31 Aug 2008 http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/indoorallergens.stm

"Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma." NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. 28 Aug 2007. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 18 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthgdln.pdf>

"Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." 2007. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 31 May 2008

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