Health&Fitness Talk

Supporting Healthy Life Styles

Is It a Cold or Winter Allergies? Is It a Cold or Winter Allergies?
'Tis the season, the temperatures are dropping and you're all bundled up in your long johns, wool sweater, warm coat and scarf, but you've... Is It a Cold or Winter Allergies?

by Kimberly Allen, RN

‘Tis the season, the temperatures are dropping and you’re all bundled up in your long johns, wool sweater, warm coat and scarf, but you’ve still got a cold and are all stuffed up.  Or is it a cold?  Many people start sniffling and sneezing soon after the temperatures drop,  They’re staying inside out of the cold and bundling up when they go out and there’s no pollen.
cold or allergiesAllergies are triggered by things other than pollen.  There’s dust and dust mites as well as mold and mold spores and lets not forget the family pet.  When temperatures drop you turn on the heat to keep your home warm.  Every time your furnace kicks on it sends more than warm air rushing through all those heating ducts and out into the air.  There’s mold spores and dust, even insect parts and pieces.  All of which can trigger and allergic reaction.  Or if you heat with wood and keep a wood pile in your basement the wood has mold and mold spores.  Some people keep their wood outside in a shed and then use a wood box near their stove to minimize the amount of wood in the house, but you still bring in mold and mold spores every time you fill the box.  Then there’s the fine ash that floats into the air every time you open the door on the stove to add more wood and/or empty the ash pan.
In addition to heating your home you’re bringing out all your cold weather clothing and heavy blankets to help fight the cold.  many have been sitting in a closet or basement during the rest of the year when they’re not needed.  Wool is a dust magnet, so get everything washed or dry cleaned before using for the season to minimize your exposure.
Then add the boxes of holiday decorations that get hauled out in early winter and you have more potential triggers.  People with allergies also tend to have difficulty with live Christmas trees because they bring mold and mold spores into the house so many opt for the fake Christmas tree.
So is it a cold or allergies?  Well, one way to tell is that a cold lasts for only a few days to a week, 10 days at the most.  Allergies can last for weeks to months.  Also, with allergies you usually have a runny nose, sneezing, cough and watery eyes but you don’t have a fever or aches and pains.  You can have a sore, scratchy throat with allergies due to the copious amounts of mucous that tends to drain down the back of your throat.
In some places winter lasts along time and most of that time is spent indoors so it’s important to take steps to limit your exposure to allergens.  The air is drier once you start heating your home which in turn dries your nasal passages so it’s important to humidify the air,  Vaccum instead of sweeping as the sweeping action can actually increase the dust mites and mold spores in the air.  Instead of dry dusting use a damp cloth  to trap the dust.  Wash your linens weekly in water that is at least 130F, this kills the dust mites.  It’s also a good idea to cover your mattress with a hypoallergenic case and use hypoallergenic pillows.  When getting out those Christmas decorations wear a mask over your nose and mouth to limit the amount of dust etc. that you breathe in.  There are also several over the counter medications including clariton and Zyrtec that are helpful in managing your symptoms.  Some Drs recommend using a saline nasal spray to  clean your nasal passages and keep them moist.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at