Winter Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Most people have probably suffered through a bad allergy season at some point in their life. But you might be surprised to learn that several different types of allergies can still flare up during the coldest months of the year.

In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for winter allergies. We will also discuss ways to reduce exposure to indoor allergens and improve your overall allergy symptoms during the winter season.

Whether you are new to winter allergies or looking for ways to manage your existing condition, continue reading to better understand and manage your symptoms.

Can you have allergies in the winter?

Yes, you can get allergies in the winter.

Allergies are a reaction of your immune system to an allergen — typically pollen or other airborne irritants, such as dust mites or pet dander. Seasonal allergies are caused by pollen and other allergens, which can be carried by the wind or travel on clothing and pet fur into your home. As the weather gets colder in fall and winter, these allergens become trapped inside your home instead of being blown away by the wind.

When you breathe in these trapped allergens, they trigger an allergic response from your body that can make it hard for you to breathe easily.

Winter allergies are also known as indoor allergies, since the leading cause of allergies in winter is exposure to indoor allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold. These allergens can accumulate in homes and other spaces during winter, when people spend more time indoors.

An Asian woman with watery eyes due to winter allergies

The symptoms of winter allergies can include:

  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Dry, itchy throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

Some people may also experience symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, winter allergies can also lead to sinus infections, which can cause additional symptoms like facial pressure or pain, fever, and thick nasal discharge. In addition, winter allergies can also make atopic dermatitis, eczema, and other skin conditions worse, especially if there’s exposure to irritants, low humidity, and hot showers.

Causes of winter allergies

Allergic reactions occur when our bodies detect something foreign — like pollen — and produce antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These IgE antibodies cause histamine to be released into the bloodstream, which causes inflammation and swelling in the nose, throat, and lungs. This results in symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes. The main causes of indoor allergies in the winter include:

  • Dust mites: These are tiny insects that live in dust and thrive in warm, humid environments. They feed on dead skin cells and are commonly found in bedding, furniture, and carpets.
  • Pet dander: Tiny flakes of skin and hair are shed by animals, which can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
  • Mold: This type of fungus grows in damp or humid environments, such as bathrooms, basements, and kitchens.
  • Cockroaches: Their droppings and body parts can cause allergic reactions.

Other factors like poor ventilation, high humidity, and lack of air filtration in buildings can also contribute to the buildup of indoor allergens, making it more likely for someone to experience symptoms.

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Additionally, certain environmental factors, like changes in the weather, cold temperatures, and the use of air conditioning, can also exacerbate symptoms. These can lead to dry air, which in turn can cause dry, itchy eyes and throat.

Can you get a snow allergy?

A snow allergy is an allergic reaction to touching snow or ice. It can cause redness and itching in areas where the skin comes into contact with snow or ice. The most common areas affected are the hands, feet, and face, but any part of the body could be affected.

It is possible that you may have an allergic reaction to certain components of snow, such as mold spores or pollens that may be present in the snow.

Additionally, some people may have a sensitivity to the cold, which can cause red, itchy eyes, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. This condition is called cold urticaria, and it’s pretty rare.

How to manage your winter allergy symptoms

If you experience seasonal allergies, you know how miserable your symptoms can make you feel. The good news is that there are things you can do to manage your symptoms, even if they don’t go away completely. Here are some ways to manage winter allergy symptoms:

  • Avoid triggers. Some seasonal allergens in the winter include mold or pollen. Try to avoid exposure to those triggers as much as possible.
  • Keep your home clean. Regularly clean your home to reduce mold and dust, which can aggravate allergy symptoms.
  • Use air purifiers. Air purifiers can provide relief for allergy sufferers by eliminating allergens from the air in your home.
An air purifier to manage winter allergies
  • Use saline nasal sprays. Saline sprays can help flush out allergens and moisturize your nasal passages.
  • Over-the-counter medications. Antihistamines and nasal decongestants can help relieve symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Germs spread easily, so it’s important to wash your hands after touching anything that could carry bacteria or viruses.
  • Consult with a doctor. If your symptoms are severe, or if over-the-counter medications aren’t effective, consider seeing a doctor. They can recommend stronger medications or other treatments.
  • Use a humidifier. Dry air in the winter can dry out your nasal passages, which can make symptoms worse. Humidifiers can help to add moisture to the air and make breathing easier.

Ways to prevent winter allergies

If you’re among the millions of people who experience winter allergies, you might be wondering how to avoid them. Here are several ways to prevent winter allergies:

  • Identify triggers. If you know what triggers your allergies, such as mold or pollen, you can try to avoid exposure to them. This can include staying indoors on high-pollen days, keeping windows closed, and avoiding certain foods.
  • Keep your home clean. Use a damp cloth or mop to avoid stirring up dust.
  • Use air purifiers. An air purifier can help remove allergens from the air in your home.
  • Keep windows closed. During the winter months, keep your windows closed to prevent cold air and allergens from entering your home.
  • Keep humidity levels low. Humidity can encourage mold growth, so use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels below 50 percent.
  • Vacuum regularly. Regularly vacuum your carpets, upholstered furniture, and drapes to remove dust and other allergens.
  • Drink more water. Allergens are airborne particles that cause an immune response in the body when inhaled. Drinking plenty of water helps wash away allergens that may be lingering in the respiratory tract.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating well, and exercising regularly can help to strengthen your immune system and make it less likely that you’ll develop allergies.
  • Consult with a doctor. If you suspect that you may have winter allergies, see a doctor who can help identify your triggers and develop a prevention plan that’s right for you.

Wrapping up

There are many factors that come into play when you’re dealing with seasonal winter allergies. The symptoms of winter allergies can be uncomfortable, but they are quite easy to deal with.

An excellent first step is to identify the source of your reaction, get rid of the offending source, and use medication as required. Then, when you’re feeling less stuffy, take steps to avoid exposure to irritants in the future and follow up with your doctor regularly.

March 9, 2023