Winter allergies leaving Western Australians feeling blue
Itchy eyes, runny noses, sneezing fits and shortness of breath. These are just some of the symptoms that are all too familiar to those who suffer from hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma.
While it can be a mild condition for some, it can be debilitating for others, having an impact on their work and social lives.
“Many Western Australians may have noticed a worsening of their symptoms – even in the winter,” Dr John Blakey from the Institute for Respiratory Health said.
“We associate allergies with the spring and summer but for many things can be worse on cooler days.
“Pollen from trees, grasses and weeds are the biggest culprits with many trees pollinating in late winter. And hay fever isn’t just a runny nose to put up with, it can trigger asthma attacks and lead to chest infections.
“You might have seen charts that show you when each type of pollen is most common and assume you are free in winter. But if you consider a winter’s day in Western Australia is as warm as a spring day in many countries – it’s easy to see that high levels can occur,” Dr Blakey said.
“A major and preventable issue in the winter can be the increase in pollutants in the air from sources like wood burning stoves. Exposure to both chemicals (such as sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds) and small particulate matter (PM2.5) can be high on winter days.
“These agents promote inflammation and are major drivers of uncontrolled asthma. Any kind of inflammation in the airways makes the nose and lungs more sensitive to allergens. You can get more information on air quality from the Asthma Australia Air Smart app.”
Brooke Kyle, an asthma and airways clinical nurse consultant from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital said, “People who are sensitive to pollens are generally susceptible to other allergens. As we spend more time indoors in the winter we are exposed to mould, dust mites and pet dander (dead skin flakes).
“Having a dog that doesn’t shed much fur doesn’t mean you will escape allergies if you snuggle up with them on a winter’s evening.”
The asthma experts explained cold air and changes in the weather are top triggers for people with asthma.
“Colder air holds less moisture than warmer air and breathing in cool dry air increases the chance of someone with asthma becoming wheezy,” Dr Blakey said.
“It may come as a surprise that wearing a mask can be beneficial for your asthma. It keeps the inhaled air warmer and more humid, can protect from respiratory infections and can help during exercise like cycling.”
John’s and Brooke’s tips for managing allergic rhinitis include:
- Continue to take your preventer medication for asthma and hay fever, to reduce the likelihood of flareups.
- Be aware of high pollen days. There are several pollen monitoring apps and websites including Auspollen – but they don’t cover all states.
- Nasal sprays can help, check out Asthma Australia’s tips on nasal sprays.
- Work with your GP on a clear action plan and when it might be time to see someone for specialist treatment like immunotherapy.
- If your house is already clean getting rid of carpets, and using hypoallergenic pillow coverings and special air filters will have very little impact, but it will blow out your wallet.