‘The Truth About Cats and Dogs’ and Allergies
DENVER-Dogs and cats. They may be your best friends. But if you have allergies they could be your worst enemy, especially this winter. As weather gets colder and dogs and cats spend more time inside, the level of animal dander rises in the home.
“The major problem is two-fold,” says Richard Weber, M.D., a National Jewish Medical and Research Center allergist. “The first concern is that it’s cold and the house is closed up. The second is with new homes being ‘tighter’ and less drafty than they have been in the past, there’s less fresh air coming into the house.”
Because new houses are highly energy efficient and older homes are being updated, the amount outside air exchanged with inside air is dropping dramatically in homes throughout the United States.
“The upside is that you’re being energy-efficient,” he says. “The downside is you’re breathing the same air over and over, and allergens do build up in the house.”
A forced-air furnace also can increase problems because it recirculates dander-laden air throughout the home. Changing the furnace air filter regularly--and closing the vent and door, and keeping animals out of the bedroom of the person with allergies--can help relieve allergy symptoms. Making a filter from a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and taping it to the inside of the vent in a room may remove some allergens, as well. Other tips include having fewer knick-knacks in the home to collect dust, and purchasing mattress and pillow covers.
Heated air also lowers humidity in the home. While humidifiers can help, they can make allergies worse. If humidity in the home rises above 40 percent, dust mites, which cause allergies, begin to thrive and the possibility of mold contamination increases dramatically. People using humidifiers during the winter should clean them weekly with a solution of bleach and water to kill mold.
Protection from Exercise-Induced Asthma Without Coming in From the Cold
Unfortunately for people with asthma, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and other winter sports have more than snow and ice in common -- they also have cold air.
Physically demanding winter sports can make airways in the lungs constrict, which can happen minutes after strenuous activity begins. Symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, chest congestion, difficulty breathing and limited endurance, usually are apparent 5-15 minutes after exercising. Coughing and wheezing, rather than shortness of breath, are signs a person may have exercise-induced asthma (EIA). “If a person starts coughing and wheezing after exercise this could be a sign he or she has or is developing asthma,” says Sally Wenzel, M.D., a staff physician at National Jewish. “A person with these symptoms should be seen by a physician.”Preventing EIA during winter sports is the best way to control it. In general, people with asthma should use their physician-prescribed asthma inhalers before exercising. (Check with your physician before changing any treatment regimen.)
Taking the time to warm up before exercise is important, as well. “Just break a light sweat, then stop exercising,” she says. “After about 30 minutes start exercising. Later you’ll have some added protection because the body produces chemicals that protect against brochospasm. You still should take beta-agonists, which open airways.”
Tips for preventing EIA during winter sports are: Wear a mask or scarf to warm cold air before breathing it; Take asthma medication 15-30 minutes before skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, etc.; Warm-up 30-60 minutes beforehand, then stop.
Beat Dry Skin this Winter by Following Simple Tips
Between cold air, reduced humidity and furnaces, winter is a tough time for skin. But skin can be kept soft through the worst winter storms with a few simple tips.
“With the drop in humidity and the cold air, there’s a rise in dry skin throughout the country,” explains Noreen Heer Nicol, R.N.,MS, FNP, an expert in skin care issues and director of Nursing at National Jewish. Lack of water, not grease or oil, causes dry skin, she says.
“Soaking and sealing” is the best way to keep skin from drying out during the winter or any other time of the year. Soak skin in water—whether taking a shower or a bath—then immediately seal it with a moisturizer to keep it soft. “If you’re only going to do one thing after your daily bath or shower, ‘soak and seal,’” Nicol says. “Put on moisturizer from head to toe.”
Ask a pharmacist for an over-the-counter ointment-based moisturizer; its texture is similar to petroleum jelly. If an ointment is too greasy, try a thinner cream or an even more-diluted lotion. The thinner the moisturizer, the more often it needs to be applied.
People who have dry skin all year could have a skin problem that needs specialized medical treatment. “If a person has dry skin throughout the year, not just during the winter, and it seems to be associated with allergies, it could be atopic dermatitis,” she says. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin disease that usually affects children. Characterized by red, dry, cracking, itchy skin, this disease can be caused by allergies to eggs, peanuts, milk and fish, or worsened by irritants, such as detergents, soaps or fabrics.
For more information on any of these topics, call LUNG LINE, (800) 222-LUNG or visit the National Jewish Web site, http://www.nationaljewish.org/pa.
National Jewish Medical and Research Center is ranked as the best hospital in the United States for pulmonary disease treatment by U.S. News & World Report, 1998.
Materials provided by National Jewish Medical And Research Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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