It’s a good feeling to be in a warm, comfortable house when winter’s winds blow and snow swirls. But that good feeling can be replaced by respiratory problems worsened by stale indoor air packed with dust, pollen, mold spores, pet dander, and other allergy-inducing substances.
Most of these allergens are odorless. That means, says a Harvard ear, nose, and throat expert, there’s nothing to alert an allergy sufferer to the onset of respiratory problems, which can include fatigue, sleepiness, digestive issues, or asthma flare-ups.
Long-term exposure to poor winter indoor air can lead to more serious conditions. Bad air quality can, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, increase a person’s risk of developing pneumonia and, in extreme cases, cause cancer and heighten the risk of heart disease.
However, there are ways to reduce the amount of and exposure to allergens by making simple changes. Among them:
- Keep the house clean. Vacuum carpets and area rugs once or twice weekly, if possible incorporating a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter in the vacuum. Wash bedding, drapes, and other allergen-attractors in water that is at least 130 degrees. Use dust-mite-proof covers on pillows, mattresses, and box springs.
- Think natural. Stay clear of cleaners that are heavy with chemicals. Use lemon and vinegar products, which leave no toxins behind.
- Cut the clutter. Get rid of or tidy up loose items, which can harbor dust.
- Change air filters. Most forced-air furnaces have disposable or washable filters—replace or clean them regularly. Consider using electrostatic filters, which do a better job of trapping airborne irritants.
- Get an air purifier. Animal dander can trigger an allergic attack. Installing an air purifier, especially an ionic purifier, can help capture some of the pet’s allergens and reduce your suffering.
- Deal with ducts. Dirt that builds up in ductwork can be transferred to indoor air when the furnace blower runs. Consider having a professional check the ducts and clean them as needed.
- Leave greenery outside. Indoor plants are pretty and provide oxygen, but, says the Harvard expert, they’re sometimes not worthwhile in winter because they can collect and foster mold.
- Humidity, Part One: In naturally damp areas such as basements, where conditions for mold are ripe, run a dehumidifier. Speaking of mold, be sure that bathrooms—another damp part of the house—are well-ventilated. Scrub away any mold that collects in showers or on fixtures and walls.
- Humidity, Part Two: Air in winter is drier than at any other time of the year. Cold air is dense, leaving less room for water vapor. This leads to dry throats and nasal passages, making breathing uncomfortable. Running a humidifier increases the air’s moisture content, promoting better breathing.
- Let in fresh air. Whenever there’s a break in the below-freezing temperatures, open a window or two and let in fresh air. Turn on a ceiling fan to move out the bad air and bring in the good.
Following some of these tips will help you to breathe easy and stay healthy amid winter’s throes.
Dennis Bova is a retired newspaper reporter, columnist, and copy editor. ❦