By Ari Zelig, MD
As temperatures begin to drop, some allergy sufferers begin to experience relief as pollen counts decline. However, other allergic conditions peak during the winter as people spend more time inside and are exposed to indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust, dust mites, mold, and mildew. Two of the most common conditions that worsen during winter are asthma and eczema, and both disorders have similar underlying genetic traits and environmental triggers. Patients dealing with these winter conditions encounter sleepless nights, uncontrollable itching, and difficulty breathing, which can lead to frequent corticosteroid treatments, ER visits, and even hospitalization.
Eczema is a chronic systemic skin condition that most often begins in childhood but can also develop later in life. Eczema can be triggered by many of the above allergens and can worsen with cold, dry weather. Those suffering from eczema experience constant itching and thick, scaly, inflamed skin. The appearance of eczema can be embarrassing. Fortunately, there are highly effective medications available today to treat eczema. There are also things you can do to help prevent flare-ups during the winter months. The use of hypoallergenic, unscented soaps and the frequent use of moisturizers helps protect the skin barrier from drying out. Using prescription anti-inflammatory ointments preventatively on commonly affected areas also decreases the frequency of unwanted flare-ups.
Asthma is a common condition in which airways become hyperactive, inflamed, and produce extra mucus, making breathing difficult. Over 25 million Americans and over 6 million children in the US suffer from asthma, making it the most common chronic condition experienced by children. Asthma is one of the leading causes of missed school and work days and can impact quality of life. In addition, the abundance of respiratory infections, cold air, and exposure to irritants from firepits/fireplaces can often induce winter asthma attacks.
The good news is that treatments for asthma have significantly improved over the past few years. Some patients can manage asthma flare-ups with rescue inhalers, maintenance inhalers, and/or oral medications. However, we now have very precise advanced therapies called “biologics” that can treat severe asthmatics in a very effective fashion. These “biologics” are highly targeted treatments, limiting the overactive cascading effects of the allergic and inflammatory responses.
Don’t be discouraged if you or someone you know suffers from winter allergies. A good first step is working with an Allergist to find out what triggers your reactions. There are also many easy preventive steps you can take at home to gain relief:
- Eliminate any mold in your bathrooms
- Wash bedding in hot water weekly
- Use a HEPA air filter to clean the air inside your house
- Use a hypoallergenic cover on mattresses, pillows, and comforters
- Implement a strategy to control or limit pet hair and dander
- Stay out of the leaves, which often contain mold
If those steps are not enough to keep you itch-free and breathing well this winter, you may be a candidate for a more targeted treatment plan. No one should have to suffer unnecessarily with all the options and information available to patients these days.
Dr. Ari Zelig is a native of Memphis, Tennessee, and is board certified in General Pediatrics as well as Allergy and Immunology. He treats adult and pediatric patients with allergic and immunologic disorders at the Southaven and East Memphis locations of McCulley Allergy Sinus and Asthma Centers. He is a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), the Memphis Medical Society (MMS), and is often a featured speaker for the National Eczema Association (NEA).