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Sharp Health News

Is your heater making you sick?

Dec. 12, 2016

Is my heater making me sick?

As temperatures drop, many families are using their home heater for the first time this winter. You may wonder why you feel groggy with a headache the morning after you turn on your thermostat. Is it true that your heater is making you sick?

“When you turn on your heater for the first time, dust, pollen and other indoor allergens may cause sinus congestion,” says Dr. Anuja Vyas, a board-certified pulmonary disease doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “These symptoms may make you feel sick.”

It’s a good idea to check and clean or replace your filters because dirty or moldy filters can make asthma and allergies worse, Dr. Vyas explains. This can also aggravate sinus headaches, she adds.

“You may also hear that you should open your doors and windows when you turn on the heater for the first time in your home,” says Dr. Vyas. “However, this is not necessary as long as the filters are clean.”

Heaters lower the relative humidity of the area and are associated with dry skin, nose and eyes. In people whose asthma is triggered by dry air, a heater can have a similar effect. A humidifier can help circumvent these issues but requires proper cleaning and maintenance to avoid exposure to harmful bacteria and fungi that can worsen asthma or allergies.

“Another option is to keep a bowl of water nearby to reduce the dryness in the room,” she says.

Keeping your nasal passages moistened is one way to treat dry sinuses caused by turning on your heater. Dabbing a hypoallergenic lotion on your nostrils or using a saline nasal spray can also help alleviate these symptoms.

While heaters provide the much needed warmth in cold winter months, take care to ensure that the area is properly ventilated. “You should avoid overheating the room and use a properly maintained humidifier if you experience symptoms of dryness,” adds Dr. Vyas.

“It’s also important to keep yourself well-hydrated by drinking a lot of water in the dry winter months,” says Dr. Vyas.

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