November 12, 2021
6 Things to Know About Winter Allergies
Even though freezing temperatures bring an end to most seasonal pollen allergies, winter allergies are something that millions of allergy sufferers have to deal with. So what should you know about winter allergies and how to prevent them?
Here are a few common questions we get asked to help you get through this allergy season.
1. Is it possible to have allergies in the winter?
Yes. Although freezing temperatures tamper most seasonal pollen allergies, there are allergens inside the home that we are more exposed to as a result of spending more time indoors with the windows closed and heat on.
As people spend more time inside, specifically in poorly ventilated areas, they usually face more exposure to allergens like mold and dust, which may bring about winter allergy symptoms. Morning headaches, congestion, itchy eyes, increased sneezing, and a runny nose are some of the most common symptoms of winter allergies, and these symptoms can be noticeably worse in the morning or at night.
Winter allergy symptoms are similar to those of other seasonal allergies, and specific symptoms may also resemble those of a cold. A few lifestyle changes and medical assistance can help keep winter allergies in check.
2. What are the most common causes of winter allergies?
There are quite a few winter allergens to be aware of. When you turn on your furnace to warm up the house, these allergens become airborne, accelerating your exposure. Keeping windows and doors tightly shut, with the heating system recirculating indoor air, can also reduce ventilation and allow allergens to build up.
Here are a few common winter allergens:
Dust Mites are microscopic bugs that live in household dust, and are invisible to the naked eye. They hide in plush items around the house, including sheets, blankets, pillows — even children's stuffed animals. They feed on skin flakes from humans and animals, and the average life cycle for a house dust mite is anywhere from 65 to 100 days.
As we spend more time inside during the winter, making good use of our warm sheets and blankets, our exposure to dust mites can intensify. Similar to hay fever, common signs of a dust mite allergy include sneezing and a runny nose. In particularly severe cases, you could also experience asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.
There are thousands of species of molds, and they typically require moisture for growth. They can be found both outside and inside, so during the spring, summer and early fall, outdoor mold allergens can wreak havoc on mold allergy sufferers. However, during the winter, indoor molds present in the home can increase allergy flare-ups as well. This fungus often lurks in dark, damp spaces like basements and bathrooms.
Although we commonly see molds growing on dead organic matter, their presence is only visible to the naked eye when they form large colonies, meaning there can be mold in your environment even if you cannot see it. Mold is not necessarily killed by the cold weather, so if you have allergy symptoms that don’t seem to follow a seasonal pattern, this could be the cause.
Pet and Animal Dander
The protein found in animal skin cells, saliva, and urine of your pet may cause your allergies. Dander, which is a material shed from the body of animals, contains these proteins and when your pet sheds, it can end up around your house. In addition to normal exposure to dander from simply being around or interacting with your pet, if your pet sleeps with you, this can intensify your allergy symptoms.
Unfortunately, the cause of this allergy is not limited to just your pet. As it gets colder outside, other animals - like mice, rats, or other rodents - may seek shelter in your home. When they do, their dander or droppings can also increase allergy and asthma symptoms. Rodents are usually very active and can spread their allergens quickly and over a vast area.
Cedar or Juniper trees
When we think about winter, tree pollen in the air isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, Cedar (Ashe Juniper) and other Juniper trees actually pollinate during the colder months of the year, and can cause severe allergies for people who live in areas where the trees are common, like Central Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona. These allergies are typically problematic from December to February - and they usually begin right after the first freeze of the winter.
These allergies are commonly referred to as “Cedar Fever” and can be so severe and sudden that it almost seems like a flu. However, a flu infection will cause a fever, but cedar allergies will not.
3. How do I know if it's allergies or a cold?
Cold and winter allergy symptoms can feel very similar, but they do have distinct differences.
Some symptoms can help distinguish allergies from a cold:
- If you have a cold, it may cause a fever, but airborne allergens will not.
- Allergies typically do not cause aches and pains, but a cold or infection can.
- If you get a sore throat, know that it can be due to allergies - but it is more frequently associated with a cold.
- Although they can also occur with allergies, coughs are more common with colds.
- Colds go away on their own, and typically don’t last longer than 10 days. Allergies may only self-resolve through weather changes and the amount of time a person spends outside.
- If an itchy rash occurs, it is most likely allergies. Colds do not cause itchy rashes or eyes.
Symptoms that last longer than a few weeks usually result from allergies. If you’re still not sure, you can take our quiz to see if you have a cold or allergies.
4. How long do winter allergies last?
While a cold only lasts about 10 days or so, common winter allergies can last anywhere from a few weeks to even months, depending on the source of the allergy.
If you notice your symptoms are lasting more than 10 days and you can recall this happening last winter, it’s probably time to visit an allergist.
5. Is it possible to prevent winter allergens?
Winter allergens aren’t going anywhere, but it is possible to reduce your exposure to them. Maintaining a clean home is your best option to reduce allergy symptoms during the winter.
Here are a few tips to help:
- Frequently clean children's toys.
- Install an indoor air filter in your home.
- Use dust mite-proof encasings on your pillows, mattresses, and box springs.
- Keeping pets out of sleeping areas will keep dander from where you sleep.
- Immediately wipe down wet surfaces, especially in the bathrooms and kitchen, to keep mold from growing. Good insulation can also help reduce condensation on cold surfaces, which will cut down on mold.
- If you are the one who is suffering during the winter months, have someone else in your house do the dusting and vacuuming. And if you can, leave the house while the cleaning is being done.
- Change your clothes, bathe and wash your hair after playing with your pet and before going to bed.
- Wash bedding in hot water (at least 130° F) once a week to reduce the dust mites in your bedding.
- Avoid down pillows and comforters, which form a welcoming habitat for dust mites and can, in and of themselves, be allergenic.
- Remove wall-to-wall carpet. Animal dander and mold can become trapped in your carpet, and dampness can accumulate, creating an environment for dust mites and mold.
It’s important to note that some preventative measures are going to be different depending on what is causing your allergies in the winter. This is why allergy testing is particularly beneficial; an allergist will be able to conduct an in-depth allergy test to identify the root cause of your allergy symptoms, and offer a treatment plan that’s specific to your unique allergies.
6. When is it time to see a specialist about my allergies?
It is important to contact a healthcare professional if:
- Your allergies become so severe that they interfere with daily life.
- You have cold-like symptoms that persist after 1–2 weeks.
- You have a newborn who is wheezing, having trouble breathing, or any allergy or cold symptoms.
- You do not know whether you have allergies or what your allergies stem from.
- Your allergy treatment does not work or stops working.
Usually, allergies are not an emergency. However, they can worsen symptoms of asthma.
If you find that you are taking over-the-counter antihistamines regularly, you may want to consider seeking a professional for treatment of your allergies. Antihistamines are not a long-term solution for allergies - they are meant to manage your symptoms, and do not actually treat the allergies.
Don’t suffer through another allergy season - we’re here to help! At Aspire Allergy & Sinus we can help determine the cause of your allergies and find a treatment solution that works best for you. Come see us and schedule an appointment today!