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Indoor Air Quality making me sick in the winter

I am a lifetime environmental allergy sufferer. Been getting shots since I was a kid. Never married, I am still single at 54 because I can't find one single woman out there who doesn't have pets.  In recent years, my biggest challenge has become WINTER allergies.  That is — constant issues with indoor air quality. For whatever reason, my body CANNOT tolerate forced air furnace heat (especially when sleeping at night). As soon as winter arrives, my life becomes miserable.. constant drainage, sore throat, stuffy nose, ears, etc. I sold my first house, which I loved, because something in it was causing constant allergic reaction in the winters.  Then bought a new house and was met with even worse reactions to the forced air heat. Needless to say, I've grown to hate winter.. and forced air.Some of the things I've tried:– Getting the air ducts cleaned.– Good filters for the furnace– I got one of those really expensive Aprilaire filters installed in my furnace, and noticed ZERO difference in my issues– Removed all carpeting– Humidifier installed on furnace– Sleeping with window cracked open– Honeywell air cleaner in the bedroom– Increased the "dust" in my allergy injections– Sleeping under a little makeshift "tent" on my bed, to reduce the inhalation of air flowing out of the ductsAfter all of these measures, it remains a complete mystery to me. What is causing this reaction? I am completely fine in the summer, when that furnace is not running. So what is coming out of those ducts that is so bad?  Wondering if I should have them cleaned again.This is an older house, and so was my previous one. I wonder if that could be a factor. I spend my winters pondering a multitude of such questions, and constantly trying new things, in hopes that someday I might stumble across something that works. I would love to hear from anybody that has suffered with similar issues.

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  • Jen

    Hi @JoeAllergy,

    Welcome to AAFA's support forums.   Wintertime can bring about a whole host of issues for people due to the cold, dry weather.  I'm sorry to hear that you seem to be having issues.  You mentioned that you have been getting allergy shots since you were a kid.  Are you still getting them?  Have you talked about this issue with your allergist to see if they have any suggestions?

  • Katie D

    Welcome Joe  You really have done a great job of trying to fix the problem, sorry to hear what you have been doing hasn't helped though.I was going to recommend a good HEPA filter, but it sounds like you have that and it doesn't seem to be working.  Is the Aprilaire filter a permanent one, and is it being cleaned?

    I know one problem with forced air heating systems is that they stir up any allergens already hanging around your home.  Is it possible that there is another allergen like mold, or pet dander lying around in your home that is causing those symptoms?  (Not sure what you are allergic to.)  The air from the heating system can set those things in motion and blow them around more. 

    One tip I have read is to put cheesecloth over the duct outlets to further help reduce dust and other allergens from coming through the heating vents – not sure if it would help, but could be another thing to try with minimum cost and effort to do.

  • JoeAllergy

    Jen — Yes, I am still getting the shots.  In fact, my mother still gets them, and she is in her 80s.  They suggested increasing the dust mite in the shots, which they did.  Other than that, it was just to take more meds and do more nasal inhalers.

    Katie –  I agree, it could be so many different things being blown around the house. I don't have any pets.  I don't think there's mold.. but I'll need to take a closer look for that. I tried the cheesecloth awhile back, but I think I got the wrong kind of cloth, with pores that were too large.  It might be worth another try.   The AprilAire filter on the furnace was something I tried in my old house, with no positive results at all. So I'm hesitant to dump more money into another one of those.  That's the unfortunate part — every possible solution comes with a price tag.  With unlimited funds, I would definitely ditch the furnace and have a boiler / radiator furnace installed. I lived in an apartment once that had radiators instead of forced air.. I never had an allergy problem when living there. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Welcome, Joe Allergy! What a tough situation! 

    I'm hoping members like @Shea can also chime in and give you some tips. 

    Some other thoughts … on the vents, could you try something like a filter designed for window air conditioners? . You would most likely need to put the filter in "backwards" as these are designed to filter the air that's being pulled into the air conditioner, not the cooled air. 

    Another thought, I know you have tried at least one air cleaner, but what about an air cleaner for your bedroom?

    And you mentioned that you are having trouble with two houses in a row, but not an apartment. Was the apartment furnished or did you use your own furniture and mattress? 

    Could you try dust encasements on your mattress and box springs? 

  • Shea

    I picked up one of these Hyla Air cleaners because I was still having issues in my home after everything youve done basically:  no pets (except lizards), hepa in the bedrooms, no carpets, etc. The Hyla is an air cleaner rhat is super strong suction, and it also is a vacuum cleaner, and it works great as both for me. I paid a lot for mine aftwr a home demonstation, but you can get them on amazon for a more reasonable price: 

    (I paid luke $5,000 for this model that sells for $1000 on amazon, but the guy who gave the demonstration and the machines demonstration were just amazing, and I have no regrets even for paying si much more, because i needed to see all the things it can do, and it is high quality) It doesnt flare my skin and asthma when I vacuum with it, it works great to clean dust out of the air, I put eucalyptus and tea tree in mine and the air feels better after i run the air cleaner on a 30 minute timer (it is loud because its suction is so good, but you just run it 30 min a day, works for large spaces). 

  • JoeAllergy

    I've looked at various stores for those Filtrete filters, but it looks as though I will have to order it online. I've searched for discussion online about filters to put over air vents, but there isn't much at all. I think 99% of people are NOT concerned about putting filters over their vents, as they already have a furnace filter. I am doubtful about the cheese cloth because I tried it previously with no results. They sell "Air Vent Filters" at Lowes, but they are too small in size for my air ducts, which are larger. Some of the others filters advertised, people complain that they restrict the airflow too much, blocking warm air, making the furnace work harder and wearing it down.I currently have the Honeywell HEPA air cleaner in my bedroom, and I do believe it helps to some extent. I am looking to get more air cleaners for the house. That Hyla cleaner that Shea mentioned looks like an amazing machine.. although a little bit expensive at over 1000 bucks.My whole-house humidifier needs repair at the moment, so I am using a portable one at night.. a little warm mist humidifier. I've noticed if I put it right in the bedroom, my allergies flare up noticeably and I am very sick by morning.  But if I put it on very low and out in the hall, that does not happen. So apparently, for me, the humidity level is actually better on the low side. Yes, I'm getting the typical drying skin and dry stuffy nose thing, but NOT the horrible flood of drainage and sore throat that is so miserable.  This discovery about the humidity level is actually brand new, and could lead to significant improvements, I'm hoping.  

  • Shea

    I know mold thrives in humidity. In the fall usually mold levels are higher because of all the decaying fallen leaves outside, and when it gets in a home and you add heat and humidity, it can make the spores worse, and then heaters might blow it around too. If its just trapped mold spores in the home being blown around and messing with your allergies, and not a full-blown mold problem, you could try a few inexpensice home remedies when cleaning:

     "Tea Tree Oil

    Tea tree oil is an uncommonly known ingredient for removing mold in your home. Although tea tree oil can be quite expensive in large quantities, it is an effective, all-natural home remedy for removing mold.

    Tea tree oil has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties, making it a strong ingredient. As a result, using tea tree oil as a home remedy to remove molds should be done with care. In its pure form, it is toxic if ingested and can cause severe internal damage .

    All you need for this home remedy is 1 teaspoon of the tea tree oil and 2 cups of water. Pour both liquids into a container or spray bottle. Mix well to combine the two ingredients. Spray or apply the solution to the affected areas and let it sit and dry out.

    This solution is great for almost any item, including cabinets, walls, drawers, and clothes. The smell of the tree tea oil can be strong at first, but after a few days the smell will dissipate on its own.

     

    White Distilled Vinegar

    If white vinegar is an effective ingredient to remove the smell of mold or mildew, it only makes common sense that it will also be a great ingredient for killing and removing mold. However, you do need to use white vinegar in its pure form without mixing it with water or other liquids. In some cases, white vinegar can kill about 82% of mold, making it an effective home remedy solution.

    Just pour or spray the white vinegar in the affected area and let it sit. Do not rinse the area once the vinegar has dried up. After a few hours, the mold and the acidic smell from the vinegar will disappear."

    excerpted from 

    I know eucalyptus is one as well, and if you do use a humidifier, a few drops of tea tree oil and eucalyptus will allow the benefits of the humidity and not the mold parts! (Sometimes, when I am lazy, I just sprinkle the stuff around the house)–but don't put it directly on your skin or eyes or anything!

  • K8sMom2002

    JoeAllergy, sorry that you haven't been able to find the filters locally and that the humidifier in your room has made things a bit worse. 

    Like @Shea points out, it could be mold. Humidifiers have to be carefully maintained according to the manufacturer's directions to make sure that mold doesn't begin to develop. 

    Or it could be that more humidity = a happier environment for dust mites to grow. 

    says this:

    Dust mites thrive in temperatures of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius). They also like humidity levels of 70 to 80 percent. There are at least 13 species of mites. They are all well adapted to the environment inside your home. They feed mainly on the tiny flakes of human skin that people shed each day. These flakes work their way deep into the inner layers of furniture, carpets, bedding and even stuffed toys. These are the places where mites thrive. An average adult person may shed up to 1.5 grams of skin in a day. This is enough to feed one million dust mites!

    Have you tried an encasement for your box springs and mattress and pillows?

  • Jen

    @JoeAllergy Are you continuing to see improvements with the humidifier in your hall?  Also, were you able to order the filters you need?

  • JoeAllergy

    You guys have given me some great ideas.  I am going to get a diffuser and try some tea tree oil.  I do have a cover on the mattress but not on the pillow cases. I will try that as well.  I recently put some cheese cloth on the register vents, but I'm not seeing any difference from that. 

    I'm continuing to find that the dryer the air, the better my symptoms are (yes, crazy).  So I've been putting very little humidity into the air.  I know that's not good, for a variety of health reasons, but its a temporary fix for now. Also, leaving the bedroom door open as opposed to closed seems to help.. i don't know why.  I think this is all trial and error..  

  • K8sMom2002

    @JoeAllergy, I am SO glad you are finding some things that are working for you! 

    And humidity can affect a whole bunch of things — like . So it could be that in the summer, the humidity is lower than it is in the winter, and the heating is creating more humidity? 

    Definitely check out the encasements and pillowcases on places like the asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification Program's website –  – to see if those types of products might be more suitable for you. 

  • Shea

    Im the same way, I do better with dryer air, and am  the same with keeping the door open, it seems to allow better airflow (I like airflow!). 

    Glad to see you are finding some helpful things ☺ 

    I have learned so much from the people on this forum about things that make my allergies and asthma better and worse.