Winter Allergies: What's Your Risk?
Think allergies go away in the winter? Think again. Here are the top triggers -- and treatments.
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,
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.
What about other woody centerpieces of the season, like Christmas trees and
roaring fires? Do these trigger winter allergies, too?
Probably not, Chiu tells WebMD. Wood smoke from a fireplace may aggravate
existing symptoms in those susceptible -- not cause them, Chiu says. And it's
not the Christmas tree itself that may fire up your winter allergies, but the
mold it harbors. Smoke, trees, scented candles, "they're irritants, not
allergens per se."
If you find any of these irritate your allergy symptoms, the pros suggest
switching to an artificial Christmas tree (kept dust-free), potpourri, even
8 Tips to Tame Winter Allergies
Whether it's summer, spring, or winter allergies stuffing you up, you can do
a lot to manage -- or prevent -- allergy symptoms, including:
Avoid Allergens. The first and best treatment for winter allergies
is to avoid what you're allergic to, says Cohen. For example, stay indoors when
the wind is whipping up damp leaves in the yard, and keep indoor allergens to a
minimum by mopping, sweeping, and dusting often.
Wash Away Allergens. Washing your hands and face frequently reduces
the number of allergens you carry -- and spread. When allergy symptoms are
intense, take a shower; it removes allergens from your hair and encourages you
to change the clothes that allergens may be clinging to. A bonus: The steam of
a hot bath or shower may relieve allergy symptoms like sinus
Wash Bedding Often. Most bedrooms are havens for pet dander and dust
mites. You can keep these and other allergens down by washing your sheets,
pillowcases, and blankets in hot water, suggests Chiu. A weekly wash is great,
but twice a month is fine, too.
And Get Better Bedding. Look for bedding that's specially designed
to be less permeable to allergens like dust mites. You can start your search
online with the term "allergy bedding."
Try a Saline Solution. Irrigation with saltwater is a great home
remedy to relieve the nasal congestion that may be part and parcel of winter
allergies. Look for saline at most drugstores, or make your own by mixing in a
squirt bottle one teaspoon of non-iodized salt to eight ounces of
Get More Moisture. When you're blowing your nose all the time and
the thermostat is cranked up, it's easy to get dehydrated. Pump up the fluids
by carrying around a water bottle, eating more water-rich fruits and veggies,
or enjoying hot tea. A side benefit to hot drinks: their steam may reduce nasal
The Air Needs Moisture, Too. It's an indoor balancing act: Too
little moisture in the air may irritate nose and throat; too much encourages
mold and mildew growth. Costing as little as $5, a hygrometer -- a humidity
monitor -- can help you track the moisture in your house and adjust with a
humidifier/dehumidifier accordingly. Aim for humidity no lower than 30% and no
higher than 50%, suggests Chiu.
Take Allergy Medication. Allergy meds can relieve symptoms like
itchy eyes and nasal congestion, yet over-the-counter or prescription drugs
won't do you much good if you don't use them right. Managing winter allergies
is easier if you take medication before symptoms appear, and if you
remember that taking more medicine doesn't lead to fewer symptoms. Follow label
directions carefully and you should get the relief you crave.
You're not alone with winter allergies. More than 40 million Americans are
allergy-prone year-round. If you aren't getting the relief you need with
lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medication, it may be time to talk to an