Some allergy sufferers breathe a sigh of relief when colder weather settles in, but for others, allergy symptoms flare. Most commonly, winter allergies are due to substances, such as mold, dust and pet dander. Although you may be allergic to those substances year-round, symptoms are often worse due to spending more time indoors during the cold weather. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), millions of people in the United States suffer from indoor allergies.
What Causes Winter Allergies?
While pollen and ragweed, which are common allergens, are reduced in the winter, you may be sensitive to other substances. Although you may also be exposed to the same allergy triggers other times of the year, your exposure may increase in the winter months. Some common causes of winter allergies include those listed below.
- Spending more time indoors: When the weather is cold outside, you’re likely to spend more time indoors. That can mean closed windows and more exposure to allergens, such as dust and mold. Also, wet wood can develop mold spores, which is often a trigger for allergies. Pets may also spend more time inside, which means you’re around them more often and exposed to pet dander.
- Holidays: The winter holidays may mean you are exposed to several different possible allergens, which cause a flare-up in symptoms. Holidays may mean decorating, and that may include Christmas trees and wreaths. According to the AAAAI, Christmas trees may contain mold spores, which some people are allergic too. Additionally, the fragrance may be an irritant and lead to allergy symptoms (see: Christmas Tree Allergies).
- Indoor air pollutants: On cold winters days and nights, it’s common to keep windows and doors closed, which decreases ventilation in your home. Indoor air pollutants, such as fumes from kerosene heaters or wood burning stoves can accumulate and cause your allergies to flare up.
Winter allergy symptoms are similar to symptoms during springtime allergy season and may include itching eyes, coughing, sneezing, and congestion. Headaches and fatigue may also plague some sufferers.
Allergy sufferers who also have asthma should be aware asthma symptoms can also become worse in the winter. The cold, dry air may trigger symptoms include wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.
Since colds are also common during the winter months, it can be difficult to determine if symptoms, such as a runny nose, congestion and sneezing are from a cold virus or allergies. According to the Allergy Association of Utah, symptoms of a cold usually run their course in about 10 days. If you are still experiencing symptoms after 10 days, winter allergies may be to blame. For more information, read The Difference Between Allergies And A Cold.
Winter Allergy Treatment
If you are not sure if you are experiencing winter allergies or are getting repeated colds, it is a good idea to start by seeing your doctor or an allergist. An allergist can help determine what substances you are sensitive to. Once you find out what your allergens are, work towards decreasing exposure as much as possible.
In addition to decreasing allergens inside, medications may help reduce symptoms. Most medications used to treat winter allergies contain a decongestant, an antihistamine or both. A decongestant will help unclog your stuffy nose and may reduce headaches associated with congestion. Antihistamines decrease allergy symptoms, such as itchy eyes and sneezing by interfering with the allergic response. Both types of medication are available over the counter but can cause side effects. Read labels carefully, since some allergy medications can cause sleepiness.
Prescription medications that may also be used to treat winter allergies include steroids andbronchodilators. Steroids can help reduce inflammation, which can occur during an allergic reaction. Bronchodilators will help relax the airways and reduce wheezing.
Tips for Dealing with Winter Allergies
It may be impossible to eliminate all potential winter allergens, but there are several steps you can take to reduce allergy symptoms.
- Wash bedding in hot water: Bedding can contain dust mites, which lead to winter allergy symptoms in some people. Washing bed sheets regularly in hot water can decrease the presence of dust mites and in turn reduce allergy symptoms.
- Use exhaust fans to lower humidity: Mold can buildup in your home due to excess moisture, especially in areas, such as the bathroom. Running an exhaust fan, while you shower or immediately after may help reduce mold growth.
- Vacuum often to decrease dust: It is impossible to rid your home from dust completely, but vacuuming often will reduce dust buildup and may help relieve symptoms.
If you have indoor allergies, winter can be the worst time of the year for your symptoms. Although it may be nice to stay warm and cozy inside, spending more time indoors means more exposure to dust, mold and other common indoor allergens. Without fresh air coming in from outside through open doors and windows, substances build up, and allergy symptoms can start. The good news is by taking steps to reduce common allergens in your home; you can decrease exposure and take control of winter allergies.