The cold winter months can actually increase allergic symptoms in some people, spelling months of misery. Summer allergies are often spotted and tackled early by sufferers. Winter allergies however are less well-known, and are often mistaken for colds or flu, meaning that they are not dealt with effectively.
For those who suffer during the colder months, it is important to know the difference between an allergy and a cold, to understand the most common triggers and to take action to eliminate the troublesome symptoms.
Spot the difference! Is it an allergy or a cold?
Many people believe that they are suffering with a common cold when in fact they are experiencing allergy symptoms. After all, coughing, sneezing and a runny nose can be symptoms of either ailment. However, a cold should not last more than 10 days. If your symptoms persist over weeks or months, then it is far more likely that you are suffering with an allergy. Other allergy symptoms include itchy eyes or nose, watery eyes and dark circles under the eyes.
Winter allergy triggers
Spending more time indoors, with the heating on full blast, can mean weeks of misery for allergy sufferers. Common allergy triggers during this time can be:
Mould. Moist conditions caused by indoor heating can lead to the growth of mould. Bathrooms and kitchens are particularly susceptible to this problem. Steamy showers in small bathrooms can also be a culprit. If you notice condensation on your windows during the cold weather, then look out for mould.
Dust mites. Ducted heating indoors encourages dust to circulate throughout the house. Extra bedding and long-stored winter clothing can also be a breeding ground for troublesome dust mites.
Animals. During the winter time, it is more likely that both you and your pet will spend more time indoors. Contrary to popular belief, allergies to pet fur are uncommon. It is more likely that you are allergic to certain proteins present in pet dander and saliva.
Winter Allergy Action Plan
There are a number of natural measures that may help to fight off persistent allergy symptoms at this time of year.
Vacuum and dust more often during the winter months.
Wash pillows and sheets in hot water every week.
Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, pillows and duvets.
Natural nasal sprays such as those containing salt can lessen inflammation and help keep the nasal passages clear.
Watch out for mould, especially in moist areas such as the kitchen and bathroom.
Clean the filters in your air-conditioning and heater units.
Try an air filter to reduce allergens in your home.
Don’t assume sniffles are the result of cold viruses, especially if your symptoms last more than a couple of weeks. Check with your GP if you are unsure.
Anti-inflammatory nutrients and natural anti-histamines such as Vitamin C and omega-3 fish oils may be helpful. For allergic symptoms, I often recommend a combination of potent anti-inflammatory nutrients quercetin and bromelain. You should always check with your GP before taking any new supplements, especially if you are already taking prescribed medications.
On Monday I wrote about nutritional aids for migraine sufferers. Help may also exist in the form of a botanical supplement known as feverfew (botanical name – Tanacetum parthenium). Feverfew is a bushy, hardy, perennial plant from the Sunflower (Asteraceae) family.
For many hundreds of years feverfew has been used to treat and prevent migraines. The effectiveness of this plant for the alleviation and prevention of headaches and migraine is believed to be attributable to the fact that it contains the natural plant chemical parthenolide. Parthenolide is an active natural plant compound which seems to have an effect on serotonin release in the brain as well as having an effect on inflammatory chemicals. This may be important since inflammation of brain blood vessels has been implicated in migraine.
Early studies (1,2,3) found that feverfew was effective in reducing the frequency, severity and duration of migraine attacks. It may, however take several weeks for benefits to become apparent. Two more recent, but small, studies (4,5) have also found feverfew to be beneficial to migraine sufferers and a recent review study (6) concludes with the authors recommending the use of feverfew in the preventative treatment of migraines. Larger studies with feverfew are certainly warranted.
The safety of this plant for use in migraine sufferers has also been assessed. A large review study found that there were no serious side-effects to using feverfew in the treatment and prevention of migraine headaches (7).
Feverfew can be taken as a supplement, a tincture and is sometimes available as a tea. If you regularly suffer from headaches or migraines then you may wish to try feverfew for a few months to see if it helps prevent attacks or reduce their frequency and intensity. If you are taking migraine medication always check with your prescribing doctor before starting to take feverfew and always follow manufacturers dosage guidelines. Please also read the post written about nutritional aids for migraine sufferers, a change of diet in addition to the feverfew supplements may bring some helpful relief.
(1) Murphy JJ, et al. 1988. Randomized double-blind placebo controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention. Lancet 1988;ii:189-192 (2)Johnson ES, et al. 1985. Efficacy of feverfew as prophylactic treatment of migraine. BMJ 1985;291:569-573 (3) Palevitch D, et al. 1997. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) as a prophylactic treatment for migraine: A double-blind placebo-controlled study. Phytother Res 11:508-511 (4) Shrivastava R et al. 2006. Tanacetum parthenium and Salix alba (Mig-RL) combination in migraine prophylaxis: a prospective, open-label study. Clin Drug Investig. 2006;26(5):287-96. (5) Diener HC et al. 2005. Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO2-extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention–a randomized, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled study. Cephalalgia. 25(11):1031-41. (6)Sun-Edelstein C and Mauskop A. 2009. Foods and supplements in the management of migraine headaches. Clin J Pain. 25(5):446-52. (7) Pittler MH, Ernst E. 2004. Feverfew for preventing migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD002286. Written by Ani Kowal