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Allergies Health Center

Winter Allergies: What's Your Risk?

Think allergies go away in the winter? Think again. Here are the top triggers -- and treatments.
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The temperature drops, the wind picks up, and like clockwork you're sniffling and sneezing again. Great, you've got another cold -- or is it winter allergies, instead?

Telling Colds and Winter Allergies Apart

At first blush it may be hard to tell whether your stuffed nose and watery eyes are caused by allergies to irritants like pet dander and dust mites, or by a winter cold. Fortunately, a little time is all it takes to answer the question.

"Colds come, they're there for three, five, seven days, and then they go away," says allergist Steven H. Cohen, MD, associate clinical professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, "but allergy symptoms persist for much longer and may be intermittent."

To tell what's laying you low, it helps to know the differences between cold symptoms and winter allergies, including:

 

Winter Allergies

Colds

* Nasal secretions are watery, clear

* Nasal secretions are discolored

* Itchy eyes and throat

* Chills and body aches

* Symptoms persist for weeks

* Symptoms are usually gone in a week

 

If it sounds like your snuffling and sneezing could be winter allergies, read on -- there's relief in sight.

What's Your Winter Allergies Risk?

It hardly seems fair, but if you're prone to summer allergies, chances are you're at risk for allergies when the weather turns cold, too.

The reason is simple: Many of those warm weather irritants are around all year, like pet dander, mold, and mildew. And once you settle indoors for the chilly holiday season -- the windows closed, the heater on -- your exposure to these allergens spikes, says Asriani Chiu, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine (allergy/immunology), at the College of Wisconsin.

The best way to handle winter allergies is to understand what's triggering them and why. To help you do that, WebMD went to the experts and got their tips on what causes the allergies of winter, and how you can take control.

Top Triggers of Winter Allergies

Most winter allergies are caused by the same inhaled allergens of summer, Chiu tells WebMD. Unfortunately, winter can actually intensify those triggers, including:

  • Pet dander: Because cold weather means pets are indoors more often, your exposure to dander escalates in the winter months, leading to a corresponding surge in symptoms. 
  • Mold and mildew: Decaying leaves and other yard waste gives mold and mildew an ideal breeding ground. Shoes and clothes then provide these damp, clingy irritants with an easy way inside. 
  • Temperate climates: Milder climates -- where there are few or no frosts or hard freezes -- means the year-round presence of allergens like pollen, year-round symptoms for people living there, or an increase in allergy symptoms for those traveling to warmer climates in the winter. 
  • Damp wood: Cut wood stored outside easily becomes a moist haven for mold spores. Bring the wood inside for even brief storage and you've invited in a classic allergy trigger.

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