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Last updated: Jul 02, 2021
3 min read

Winter allergies: symptoms, triggers, and treatment

chimene richa

Medically Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD

Written by Michael Martin

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

The winter months can bring lots of joyous customs, but the cold weather can be a source of dread for allergy sufferers. That chill in the air is a sign that seasonal winter allergies are approaching. While we normally associate seasonal allergies with the springtime, winter allergies are indeed a thing. Even though frost may have temporarily quashed the pollen that’s a leading instigator of spring allergies, plenty of allergy triggers exist indoors. 

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What are winter allergies?

Allergies are caused by the immune system overreacting to typically harmless substances around you. Common allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and food (like peanuts or shellfish). 

People are most familiar with spring or fall seasonal allergies (a.k.a. hay fever) since they are most prevalent. But allergens in the air can be bothersome at any time of year, including winter, causing allergic rhinitis. Typical allergy symptoms include sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose. Approximately 30% of children and adults in the U.S. suffer from allergic rhinitis. We don’t know exactly why some people have allergies and others don’t, but there may be a genetic component (Akhouri, 2021).

Causes and triggers of winter allergies

If you have seasonal allergies in the winter, you may be irritated by indoor allergens, including dust mites, mold, pet dander, and cockroaches. As the weather cools, we tend to spend more time indoors, which may trigger indoor allergy symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of winter allergies

Since winter is also cold and flu season, common symptoms of winter allergies are often confused with the common cold. Winter allergy symptoms include (Akhouri, 2021):

  • Sneezing
  • A stuffy or runny nose
  • An itchy or sore throat
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Itchy skin

Diagnosing winter allergies

Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you may have winter allergies. They can recommend over-the-counter or prescription remedies to help with your allergy symptoms. 

If your winter allergies really bother you despite treatment, your healthcare provider may refer you to an allergist who can administer a skin test. Allergy skin testing can help determine which specific indoor agents are triggering your winter allergies so you can try to avoid them. Sometimes, an allergist may recommend additional treatments, like allergy shots or immunotherapy. 

Preventing winter allergies

Keeping your home clean is one of the best ways you can avoid winter allergies.

HEPA filters

Using an air purifier and/or vacuum with HEPA filters can help cut down on indoor allergens. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold spores, and other airborne particles. A HEPA air purifier will remove those allergens from the air, while a vacuum with a HEPA filter will trap dust and allergens, preventing them from being expelled through the exhaust (EPA, 2021).

Hypoallergenic cleaning supplies and fabrics

There are many hypoallergenic products available. These eliminate allergens on surfaces and won’t irritate you while cleaning. Products include unscented cleaners and detergents, anti-allergen sprays, and dust-trapping cloths. If you’re sensitive to fragrances, look for products that are unscented or labeled “hypo-allergenic” or “free and clear.” 

Allergen-reducing cleaning techniques

  • Wash your bedsheets and pillowcases in hot water once a week, as they tend to attract dust mites (a major source of indoor allergies). 
  • Vacuum regularly to remove dust mites and animal dander.
  • Dust and wipe down surfaces regularly, using a spray, damp cloth, or static duster, to reduce the amount of airborne dust. 
  • Reduce the number of soft surfaces in your home (such as throw blankets, carpeting, and curtains) because they can harbor dust and dust mites.
  • Wear a dust mask when cleaning.
  • Clean any signs of mold in your home.
  • Eliminate possible sources of mold, such as damp spots or leaking fixtures; if you have mold, you might want to avoid using a humidifier.
  • Hire an exterminator to eliminate mice and cockroaches.

Treating winter allergies

Many people find that allergy medications help improve their winter allergy symptoms. Treatment options include over-the-counter antihistamines (like Allegra, Zyrtec, or Claritin), decongestants, inhaled corticosteroids (like Flonase or Nasacort), or eye drops

Alternatively, your healthcare provider may prescribe prescription medications (like Singulair) to reduce inflammation in your nose and sinuses. 

Allergy shots, a form of immunotherapy, are another treatment option. You receive regular injections of tiny amounts of an allergen or allergens over months to years to help your body get used to the specific allergens causing your allergy symptoms. 

Lastly, several natural remedies, like raw honey, have become a popular choice for treating allergic rhinitis.  However, the scientific data on these therapies is limited and inconclusive. Check with your healthcare provider before starting allergy treatments.

References

  1. Akhouri S, House SA. (2021). Allergic rhinitis.In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538186/

    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2021). Indoor air quality: what is a HEPA filter? Retrieved on June 29, 2021 from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-hepa-filter-1