Exposure to indoor allergens is a common trigger for so-called winter allergies. As people spend more time inside, especially in poorly ventilated areas, they may face more exposure to these allergens, which then may bring about symptoms of winter allergies.
Symptoms are similar to those of other seasonal allergies, and certain symptoms may also resemble those of a cold. A few lifestyle changes and medical assistance can help people manage winter allergies.
Keep reading to learn more about winter allergies, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available.
Spring, summer, and fall allergies are seasonal, which means that they appear when certain allergens, such as tree pollen or ragweed, are more abundant in the air.
Winter allergies are less dependent on season than on lifestyle. This is because most winter allergens are indoors. People are more likely to notice winter allergies when they spend more time inside, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.
The most common causes of winter allergies include:
- mold spores
- dust, or dust mites
- cockroaches, including cockroach feces and shells
In very warm climates, plants may continue producing allergens during the winter months. People living in these climates may struggle with pollen or ragweed for much of the year.
Indoor winter allergies are very common. In industrialized areas, for example, as many as 1 in 4 people are allergic to dust mites.
Cold and winter allergy symptoms can feel very similar, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other.
It is possible to develop allergies at any age or even to become allergic to the same substances in the same house after years of no reaction. The fact that a person has not previously had allergies does not necessarily mean their symptoms are from a cold.
Symptoms that last longer than a few weeks are usually the result of allergies. Symptoms that appear suddenly, after weeks or months in the same home, may be from a cold, especially if a person does not have a history of allergies.
There are some symptoms that can help distinguish allergies from a cold:
- Colds can cause a fever, but airborne allergens will not change a person’s body temperature.
- A cold may cause aches and pains, while allergies typically do not.
- Sore throat is common with colds, but it occurs less frequently with allergies.
- A person with a cold may feel chest pressure. By contrast, only people with asthma who have allergies typically report chest pain.
- Coughs are more common with colds, although they can also occur with allergies.
- Colds go away on their own. Allergies may only self-resolve when the weather changes, and a person spends more time outside.
- Colds typically do not cause itchy rashes or eyes, whereas allergies often do.
Treatment for winter allergies depends on a person’s symptoms and how severe the allergies are.
Some people may need medical treatment, while others may benefit from controlling the allergens by using some prevention strategies. These include:
- Medication: Certain medications, such as over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal steroids, and prescription medication, may help control symptoms.
- Immunotherapy: This process involves exposing a person to small quantities of an allergen over time to reduce the severity of their reaction. This usually means getting allergy shots.
- Nasal rinses: Some people find that nasal sprays and neti pots may help keep the nasal passages clear of allergens, reducing the severity of allergic reactions.
- Asthma treatment: Treating asthma may help reduce the severity of allergies. This may require taking medication, using an inhaler, or making some lifestyle changes.
Some strategies that can reduce the severity of winter allergies and potentially prevent them include:
- improving ventilation in the home
- cleaning dusty areas to remove dust and dander
- frequently cleaning toys
- installing an indoor air filter
- cleaning up cockroach droppings and exploring options for controlling cockroaches
- using dust mite-proof encasings on your pillows, mattresses, and box springs
- keeping pets out of sleeping areas if a family live with a pet to whom one or more members are allergic
- removing carpeting from the home or using fewer carpets and rugs
- keeping humidity in the home to 45% or less
- removing any mold growing in the home
Doctors do not fully understand what causes allergies or how to prevent them. There is some evidence that genetic traits, as well as lifestyle factors, may affect the risk of developing allergies.
However, there is no compelling evidence that any specific intervention can prevent winter allergies.
Usually, allergies are not an emergency. However, they can worsen symptoms of asthma.
It is important to contact a healthcare professional if:
- a person’s allergies become so severe that they interfere with daily life
- a person’s symptoms of a cold persist after 1–2 weeks
- a newborn is wheezing, has trouble breathing, or has any allergy or cold symptoms
- a person does not know whether they have allergies or what they are allergic to
- allergy treatment does not work or stops working
Winter allergies can be unpleasant, since indoor substances that a person cannot easily escape usually trigger them.
This does not mean a person has to resign themselves to trouble breathing during the winter.
A doctor specializing in allergies can help diagnose the problem and choose the most suitable treatment.