If you develop a sniffle on the first day of winter and can't seem to shake it until spring, you're not alone. Many people suffer from what they think are season-long colds in the winter. However, there's a good chance the symptoms you're experiencing are caused not by a virus, but rather by allergies to the mold spores and dust that are being spewed out by your heating system in the winter.
How do you know if your heating system is to blame?
Of course, this really only applies if you have forced air heating. If you have a boiler system, you don't have dust blowing around your apartment. If you do have forced air heating, look for these signs, which indicate that your system may be spewing out allergens:
- You notice that the home is dustier in the winter. You're always having to wipe dust off of your counters and shelves.
- Your symptoms seem to get better when you're out and about for the day, but they act up again when you arrive home for the evening.
- Other family members are suffering from similar symptoms. Your pets may even be showing signs of allergies, such as itchy or red eyes and sneezing.
What should you do if you think your heating system is blowing out a lot of dust and mold spores?
The best thing to do is call an air conditioning and heating specialist in the area and arrange to have your ducts professionally cleaned. You should not attempt to clean the ducts yourself, as this will require unbolting some duct work and working around sharp metal. While you're awaiting your HVAC appointment, there are a few steps you can take to keep your symptoms at bay:
- Vacuum out your cold air returns, if you have them. Dust tends to collect here before working its way back into the ductwork. You won't get rid of the problem by vacuuming your cold air returns, but you can minimize it a bit.
- If the problem is really bad at night, tape a thin piece of gauze fabric over the heating vent in your bedroom. This will capture some of the dust particles, so they don't land all over you.
- Vacuum your carpets daily until your HVAC appointment. You'll slowly capture some dust and mold spores before it gets back into the ductwork.
Nobody wants to feel miserable all winter. If your symptoms have lasted more than a week or two, there's a good chance it's the heater repairman you need to call, rather than your doctor. Of course, don't hesitate to seek medical attention if the problem becomes severe or lingers in spite of having your ducts cleaned.