What are Winter Allergies, Know Their Symptom, Treatment and Prevention

Most people tend to associate allergies with a change of seasons. The winter season is not typically associated with allergies. However, there are many types of allergies that persist well into and throughout the cold months. It is essential to understand that winter allergies post somewhat different symptoms and problems as compared to allergies during other seasons. Knowing how to identify and avoid the triggers and how to manage your symptoms can help you remain in good health all winter long. Here’s everything you need to know about winter allergies.

What are Winter Allergies?

What are Winter Allergies?

Winter allergies are another form of seasonal allergies, but because of the harsher and colder weather that is typical of the winter months, you will be spending more time cooped up inside, and thereby, the exposure to potential indoor allergens are high during this season.1 

During the winter months, there is less pollen present in the air outside. Pollen is one of the biggest triggers of seasonal allergies.2 This may make you think you are safe from your allergies, but in the case of winter allergies, outdoor allergens are not a significant cause of concern. Since you spend more time indoors during the cold weather, you will notice a potential increase in your allergy symptoms due to indoor allergens. Symptoms such as wheezing, runny nose, and sneezing are common in winter allergies as well. 

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, here are the most common indoor allergens that may trigger your allergy symptoms in winter:3

  • Dust mites: Dust mites are microscopic creatures that are among the most common causes of indoor allergies around the year.4 Dust mites can be found on every continent except Antarctica. It is not possible to get rid of them entirely from your home, but you can reduce the allergic reaction to them. Dust mites mainly thrive in carpets, bedding, and any upholstered furniture in the house. 
  • Pet dander: Another common indoor allergen is pet dander. Dander is the dead skin flakes of household pets like dogs and cats. Pet dander does not consist of the hair or fur of these animals. Dander can cause chronic or acute allergic reactions in many people. Pet dander can be found on almost all indoor surfaces like upholstery, carpets, and beds.5 
  • Mold: All of us breathe in some mold spores from time to time. However, for people with an allergy, exposure to mold can cause congestion, itchiness, and sneezing. Mildew and mold are typically found in damp areas of the house like bathrooms, basements, and under the sinks.6 
  • Cockroach: Cockroaches can live anywhere, and cockroaches can be a major allergy and asthma trigger for people who are allergic to their feces, dried out shells, and saliva. Cockroaches are not necessarily a sign of unsanitary or unhygienic households, but it is still essential that you keep all food products closed and be careful not to leave crumbs, especially overnight. Fixing leaking pipes and faucets and sealing up any crevices and cracks in the house can help you keep cockroaches at bay. Damp weather in the winters can be a significant factor in driving these roaches indoors.7 

While the exact data is difficult to predict, but it is estimated that nearly 5 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from some kind of winter allergy.8 The best way to alleviate the symptoms of winter allergy is to take preventive measures, but even if your symptoms are at their worst, you can still get relief from them.

What are the Symptoms of Winter Allergy?

Here are the common symptoms of winter allergy:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Stuffy and/or runny nose
  • Throat itching
  • Ear itching
  • Skin rash
  • Dry coughing, sometimes including phlegm
  • Difficulty breathing, mostly when your nose is blocked
  • A feeling of general unease
  • Low-grade fever

In cases of severe allergies, you may experience more aggressive symptoms that may be similar to asthma symptoms. These include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Wheezing or a whistling sound when you breathe
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Feeling exhausted and/or anxious 

How to Prevent Winter Allergies?

How to Prevent Winter Allergies?

One of the biggest challenges with winter allergies is that our cold-weather lifestyle can worsen the symptoms of even a simple allergic reaction. It is common for people to turn on their heaters during this weather, which makes the air inside even drier. This can cause dry nose, increasing the likelihood of skin cracking and nosebleeds. This increases the risk of infection, especially when your nasal passages are already swollen due to your allergies. Using nasal saline rinses helps reduce the risk of catching another secondary viral infection during this weather. 

While it is very difficult to simply get rid of winter allergies altogether, but it is possible to significantly reduce your exposure to allergens, especially in your immediate surroundings, that is inside your home. 

Here are some tips to minimize your exposure to indoor allergens in the winter:

  • Clean, dust, and vacuum frequently to get rid of as much dust as possible. Try using a vacuum that has a High-efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. A vacuum with a HEPA filter will help n removing the majority of allergen particles from the surfaces where you vacuum.9 Regular vacuuming also reduces the levels of mite allergens present in house dust particles. 
  • Avoid using wall-to-wall carpeting. Such type of carpeting provides a favorable environment for all sorts of allergens to grow, especially dust mites. Opt for using area rugs instead. If you have a severe winter allergy, it might even be better to take out the carpeting altogether and replace it with wood, tile, or linoleum. However, if you select wood as a replacement, make sure to take care of the cleanliness to avoid cockroaches breeding in it. 
  • Wash your bedsheets and pillowcases in hot water. You should wash them at least at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps kill any dust mites and many pathogens. It is also recommended that you use hypoallergenic cases for your pillows and mattresses to keep any dust mites trapped inside. Apart from washing the bedsheets and pillowcases, you should also regularly clean your clothes, nightclothes, and any removable upholstery covers. 
  • If you are allergic to pet dander, it is best to bathe your pets at least once a week to minimize dander. However, be mindful not to bathe them more frequently than once a week, as frequent bathing can dry out your pet’s skin and coat. It is also best to keep your pets out of the bedroom. 
  • Using a dehumidifier to decrease the levels of moisture inside the room can help. In many cases, high humidity levels in your indoor air can also trigger an allergic reaction. The ideal humidity level inside a room should be around 30 to 50 percent.10 
  • Clean any areas where there is mold growth with a 5 percent bleach solution and water. It is essential to keep checking damn places in your home, especially your bathroom and basement, for signs of mold growth.11 
  • Avoid leaving any crumbs or leftovers in the dining area or kitchen overnight, or even after you or your pets have finished eating. Leftovers and crumbs are going to attract cockroaches. 
  • Fix any leaks in the basement, bathroom, pipes, the roof to stop moisture from accumulating in the walls and creating the perfect environment for mold, dust mites, and roaches to thrive. 
  • Seal any openings and cracks in your walls, windows, or doors. Any place from where roaches can get in or from where outdoor air can blow inside. 
  • Restrict the time your pets spend indoors. If it is not possible to keep them outside, then try to keep them out of the places where you spend most of your time, such as the kitchen, bedroom, or the living room.

If even after having done all you can to allergy-proof your home against the known triggers, but you still continue to have your symptoms, it is probably because there are many other allergy-inducing conditions at homes, such as dust, dust mites, and dry air. Additionally, if you have a pet, you are likely to be getting dander on your clothes without realizing it. You will be surprised to learn that the level of cat dander present in public places is also high enough to trigger allergic reactions.12

How to Distinguish Between a Cold and an Allergy?

The common cold and allergies, though caused by different sources, have similar symptoms. Colds are caused by a virus that is spread by another person who is already infected. Allergies, on the other hand, are caused as a result of the body releasing histamine that leads to an inflammatory response to an allergen.13 

A cold ends in a couple of weeks once your body fights off the infection. However, allergies can happen whenever you are exposed to allergens that enter your respiratory tract. The symptoms of an allergic reaction also tend to last for as long as you remain exposed to the allergens and continue breathing them in. 

In the winter season, it becomes difficult to distinguish between an allergy and a common cold. Both conditions have similar symptoms like runny nose, congestion, and sneezing.14 

The main thing to note here is that symptoms like watery, red, itchy eyes are usually signs of an allergic reaction and not the cold or flu. On the other hand, getting a fever or having aches and pains are not a common sign of allergies. While sometimes you can get a low-grade cough in allergies, but it is usually more of a symptom of a cold. If you have a severe cough, it could be a sign that you have the flu.

How to Treat Winter Allergy Symptoms?

The symptoms of a winter allergy can be treated at home, but it is likely that you will benefit from taking long-term medical treatments from your doctor. Here are some simple home remedies you can try for treating the symptoms:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) Allergy Medication: There are many antihistamines, such as fexofenadine (brand name Allegra) or cetirizine (brand name Zyrtec), which can help you get relief from the symptoms if taken regularly. OTC medications such as Zyrtec-D, which include acetaminophen and also help you get relief from headaches. 
  • Use a nasal spray: There are various prescription-strength steroid nasal sprays available, such as triamcinolone (brand name Nasacort) and fluticasone (brand name Flonase) that can help alleviate the inflammation of the nasal passages and the other symptoms, including a runny nose. These nasal sprays can also be purchased without a prescription over the counter. 
  • Using nasal irrigation treatment like a neti pot: A neti pot and other similar devices work by sending sterile and distilled water through both your nasal passages to clear out any allergens present in these passages.15,16 
  • Get your allergy shots on time: For people with severe, chronic allergy symptoms, it is better if you consult your doctor about getting allergy shots. These shots work by exposing you to tiny amounts of allergens regularly so that your body starts building up resistance and immunity to them. This leads to lesser reactions, and if you do have one, the severity of your symptoms will be much less over time.

Conclusion

Winter allergies are just the same as seasonal allergies in terms of their symptoms, but due to the cold-weather lifestyle being followed during these months, the severity of the symptoms may be more, or the likelihood of getting an allergic reaction is higher. Dust mites, cockroach droppings, mold, and pet dander are some of the most common causes of winter allergies. 

Itching, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and rashes are some of the common symptoms of a winter allergy. Following preventive measures, cleaning your nose and sinuses with a neti pot, and taking allergy medication can all help decrease your symptoms. However, if you find that your symptoms are not getting better with treatment, or they last for more than a couple of weeks, then you should talk to your doctor about taking allergy shots. Getting an allergy shot can help reduce the severity of your allergy symptoms over a period of time.

References:

  1. Gray, C., Winter allergies. 
  2. D’Amato, G., Cecchi, L., Bonini, S., Nunes, C., Annesi‐Maesano, I., Behrendt, H., Liccardi, G., Popov, T. and Van Cauwenberge, P., 2007. Allergenic pollen and pollen allergy in Europe. Allergy, 62(9), pp.976-990. 
  3. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2020. Indoor Allergens TTR | AAAAI. [online] Available at: <https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/indoor-allergens> [Accessed 28 November 2020]. 
  4. Aafa.org. 2020. Dust Mite Allergy | AAFA.Org. [online] Available at: <https://www.aafa.org/dust-mite-allergy/> [Accessed 28 November 2020]. 
  5. Ownby, D.R., 2010, September. Pet dander and difficult-to-control asthma: The burden of illness. In Allergy & Asthma Proceedings (Vol. 31, No. 5). 
  6. Edmondson, D.A., Nordness, M.E., Zacharisen, M.C., Kurup, V.P. and Fink, J.N., 2005. Allergy and “toxic mold syndrome”. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 94(2), pp.234-239. 
  7. Londres, M.I., Sarinho, F.W., Miranda, P.J., Solé, D. and Sarinho, E., 2011. Allergy to cockroaches: challenges in diagnosis. Clin Lab, 57(11-12), pp.969-74. 
  8. Mishra, R.P., 1996. THE WINTER. Biodiversity and Environment, p.213. 
  9. Munir, A.K.M., Einarsson, R. and Dreborg, S.K.G., 1993. Vacuum cleaning decreases the levels of mite allergens in house dust. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 4(3), pp.136-143. 
  10. World Health Organization, 2003. Prevention of allergy and allergic asthma (No. WHO/NMH/MNC/CRA/03.2). World Health Organization. 
  11. Hardin, B.D., Kelman, B.J. and Saxon, A., 2003. Adverse human health effects associated with molds in the indoor environment. Journal of Occupational and Environmental medicine, 45(5), pp.470-478.
  12. Morris, D.O., 2010. Human allergy to environmental pet danders: a public health perspective. Veterinary dermatology, 21(5), pp.441-449. 
  13. Hellgren, J., Cervin, A., Nordling, S., Bergman, A. and Cardell, L.O., 2010. Allergic rhinitis and the common cold–high cost to society. Allergy, 65(6), pp.776-783. 
  14. Hyrkäs, H., Jaakkola, M.S., Ikäheimo, T.M., Hugg, T.T. and Jaakkola, J.J., 2014. Asthma and allergic rhinitis increase respiratory symptoms in cold weather among young adults. Respiratory medicine, 108(1), pp.63-70. 
  15. Hulisz, D. and Eiben, J., How Neti Pots Can Offer Relief. 
  16. Klotter, J., 2006. Neti pot… nasal irrigation. Townsend Letter: The Examiner of Alternative Medicine, (274), pp.26-28.

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