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So you think the allergy season is over? After all, in much of the country, the weeds are dead, trees are bare, and grasses lie dormant under ice and snow. How then do you account for that "cold" that seems to be hanging around for months - the runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, irritating cough and itchy throat that don't seem to go away and stay away?

There is a good chance you are a victim of winter allergies, or, as they are called medically, perennial allergic rhinitis. And there is a good chance that, if you are willing to make the effort, you can greatly reduce your discomfort by limiting your exposure to the most likely culprits.- WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? Allergies are not just an annoyance; they also have significant costs. In addition to a hefty supply of tissues and lozenges, sufferers typically invest in over-the-counter and prescription medicines, herbal remedies, doctor visits, humidifiers and vaporizers, air-conditioners and air-cleaning machines in the hope of finding relief.

Less apparent is the toll that allergies can take on productivity, mood, learning ability, sleep and interest in sports and social activities. Allergies can also set the stage for more serious health problems, including asthma, sinus infections, nasal polyps and, especially in young children, ear infections.

The three most common causes of year-round allergies are mites that live in house dust, mold spores and animal dander. Other troublemakers in many households include cockroach parts, rodent urine and the smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.

Actually, it is not the microscopic dust mite itself that is the problem but rather proteins in the excrement of this ubiquitous animal. So even when mites are dead, they may leave behind an allergenic legacy. And it is not the flakes of skin, hairs or feathers from household pets that trigger the cascade of allergic responses, but rather proteins in the animals' saliva that get on their skin, hairs and feathers when they clean themselves. These proteins are readily transferred to clothing, furniture and bedding.

Mites and molds thrive when their surroundings are warm and moist. You might expect them to die in the winter heating season, when indoor temperatures are commonly cooler and the air in many homes and offices is drier than the Sahara Desert. But they can find many comfortable places to thrive indoors, and sometimes the "remedies" people choose to relieve nasal discomfort actually make matters worse.

For example, believing that dryness of the heated air is the main cause of their nasal symptoms, people may install a humidifier to raise the moisture content of the air they breathe, especially at night. But if the indoor air becomes too humid (reaching or exceeding a relative humidity of 50 percent) or if moisture condenses on the insides of windows, molds and dust mites can flourish even in the dead of winter. Sometimes the humidifier itself is a source of mold growth; unless manufacturers' cleaning instructions are rigorously followed, molds can grow in many of these machines, which then spew them into the air.

- CLEAN UP YOUR ACT. You may be a meticulous housekeeper, but your living quarters will still harbor millions of dust mites and, if you have pets, animal dander. Carpeting is a major hangout, and each time a rug is stepped on, an invisible cloud of allergenic dust rises. Bedding is another favored abode of dust mites, especially mattresses where the warmth and moisture from sleeping humans enables mites to multiply even in a cool, dry room. You may not be allergic to feathers per se, but feather pillows and comforters are likely to be laden with dust mites.

For someone highly sensitive to dust mites, the bedroom is the most important place to control them. Start by encasing the mattress, box spring, pillows and comforter in zippered, allergen-impermeable, dustproof covers. Replace wool or feather-filled blankets with washable ones. If a rug is on the floor, even one with a flat nap, replace it with linoleum or wood. If you must, use washable rugs. Wash all bedding once a week in hot water to kill the mites.

Remove dust collectors - knickknacks, stuffed toys, dried flowers, papers and books - and replace window blinds and draperies with washable curtains. Replace upholstered chairs with wood, plastic, vinyl or leather. Dust with a damp cloth and vacuum weekly; special multilayer vacuum bags and electrostatically charged filters can help to keep allergens from blowing into the room air. Place filters under the grates of hot air vents.

If you use a humidifier or steam vaporizer, monitor the relative humidity in the room (do not let it go above 40 percent) and, to prevent mold growth, be sure to clean the water reservoir daily with a vinegar solution. Other mold-control tactics include limiting the number of houseplants, frequently emptying the drip pan under the refrigerator, keeping firewood outside the house, using exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom, venting clothes dryers outdoors and regularly washing bathroom walls, fixtures and shower curtains with anti-mold solutions. Use only washable mats, not carpeting, in the bathroom. Avoid placing carpeting directly on a concrete floor; the dampness makes it a perfect breeding place for molds.

If the house is chronically damp, a dehumidifier in the basement, emptied daily, can help. If that is not enough, major repairs to seal out moisture may be needed in the basement or crawl space and outdoors to correct drainage problems that allow water to collect around the house or on the roof.

When the family pet is an allergy problem for one or more members of the household, the ideal solution is to find the animal a new home. Short of that, bathing the animal weekly can help reduce exposure to allergens. Keep animals out of the bedroom, off the furniture and outdoors whenever possible.

Open a bedroom window at least a little at night. Consider using a HEPA (for high-efficiency particle-arresting) air cleaner in the bedroom. These can remove both large irritating particles and small allergenic ones from the air. Units that sell for about $100 can filter all the air in a 9-by-12 room six times in an hour.

If such environmental measures do not bring adequate relief, see your family physician or an allergist for treatments to help tame your symptoms.