- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Just as spring's blossoms disguise the irritants that plague tens of millions of Americans, a cozy winter retreat with a fireplace and the family pet curled up on the rug belie indoor allergens.
But it can be tough to tell: Is it just a cold?
"Colds are more common than allergies, especially in winter, so that is what people think of first," said Dr. Henry Li, allergist at the Institute for Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton.
What some people don't know is that the winter season aggravates allergies induced by indoor irritants, such as dust mites, molds and animal dander, said Dr. Yvonne M. Johnson, director of medical affairs at Novartis Ophthalmics. Homes that keep out the cold could be keeping in the culprit.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that 50 million to 60 million Americans suffer from allergies. People with indoor allergies often go undiagnosed, Dr. Li said, because symptoms persist in varying degrees all year long, and it can be harder to trace the sniffles to the source.
Those who find themselves running for the tissue box can look for several distinctions. Allergylike symptoms runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, watery and itchy eyes are common to both, but only colds will bring fever, aches and pains.
Allergic reactions occur immediately and persist so long as one is exposed to the allergen; colds develop over several days, with a total duration of a week to up to 11 days.
Heating systems sap humidity from the already dry winter air. In these conditions, hardened molds are stirred in the air and the spores are then inhaled.
Dr. Hafez Daneshvar, allergist at the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Reston, said drug options can by dizzying sometimes literally for winter allergy patients.
Anna Cruz, a five-year patient of Dr. Daneshvar, said that her options included "pills or nose sprays, Claritin D or regular Claritin." Miss Cruz was tested for bronchitis before doctors pronounced her "allergic to everything but cockroaches and molds," including trees, grass, animals and dust.
Allergists say medications are not the only option for sufferers. There are air purifiers, specialized allergy-sensitive cleaning solutions, HEPA vacuums and pet dander-control products.
Choices range along the budget spectrum from no cost ("move Fido out of the bedroom") to affordable (hypoallergenic covers for pillows and mattresses).
Patients are often hesitant to alter their surroundings, especially if the change involves their pet. "People want to get rid of their allergies, not their cats," Dr. Daneshvar said.

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