January 22, 2024

Why Are My Allergies Acting Up in Winter?

Indoor allergens know no season!

female on couch, holding mug, under blanket, blowing nose, cat on couch

Just thinking about ragweed pollen may make your eyes itch and bring on a sneeze. (ACHOO!) Ditto for tree pollen, grass pollen and other allergy triggers that float around the great outdoors in spring, summer and fall.

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So, when freezing winter temperatures halt pollen production and send you indoors, you should be able to breathe a non-stuffy sigh of relief, right?

Not necessarily. It turns out that being cooped up in a house can make allergy symptoms worse for some people. Let’s learn more about allergens lurking in your home from allergist Sandra Hong, MD.

What are winter allergies?

What people call “winter allergies” doesn’t involve sneezing at the first sight of snow. It’s more a reference to allergy-driven sniffles and sneezes that come when you spend more time inside your home.

In truth, “winter allergies” are nothing more than perennial indoor allergies that you’re more exposed to during certain times of the year, says Dr. Hong.

If you live in a cold-weather climate, that’s winter. But those same allergy issues can make your life miserable if you live in an area where scorching summertime temperatures keep you inside for months.

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What causes winter allergies?

Surveys show that most people spend about two and a half hours a week cleaning inside their homes. Despite all that elbow grease, it’s safe to say that folks miss a few spots when it comes to eliminating allergens.

Research shows that more than 99% of homes have at least one main allergen always present. Most homes (74.6%) have between three and six allergens present.

Dr. Hong says the most common culprits behind winter allergies include:

  • Dust mites. Soft surfaces such as beds serve as the prime habitat for these insect-like creatures. (Fun fact: Your mattress may be home to up to 10 million of these microscopic pests, which feed on flakes of dead skin.)
  • Mold. Consider floating mold spores the pollen of the indoors. Mold is a fungus that thrives in moist environments and grows well on a variety of surfaces, including paper-based products, wood, drywall and upholstery.
  • Pets. Dogs, cats and other furry friends may be lovable, but they’re also the source of many allergens. (Ditto for birds, too.)
  • Cockroaches. If just thinking of these reddish-brown bugs grosses you out, consider this: They leave behind poop, spit and eggs that can trigger your allergies.

Symptoms of winter allergies

Classic symptoms of indoor allergies include:

Winter allergies vs. a cold

Indoor allergies can send you regularly scrambling for a box of tissues. Ditto for the common cold. So, how do you tell the two apart given the similarity in symptoms?

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A cold typically lasts a few days to a week, with symptoms peaking in the middle of that period before slowly disappearing. Facial pain, headaches, fatigue and a fever can be part of the package.

Allergies, on the other hand, tend to linger longer without hitting the same extremes as a cold, clarifies Dr. Hong. 

How to manage winter allergies

Eliminating ALL allergens from your home borders on the impossible, as the research noted shows. But there are things you can do to minimize indoor allergens and their annoying effects, says Dr. Hong.

Here are eight ways to help keep your winter allergies from flaring up:

  1. Reach for the bleach. Using a bleach solution to scrub bathrooms, kitchens and basements can help keep those moisture-laden areas of your home mold-free.
  2. Vacuum regularly. Want to get rid of allergens hiding in carpets and rugs? Then suck ‘em up with your vacuum once or twice a week. (A vacuum with a HEPA filter is most effective.)
  3. Wash your sheets. People with dust mite allergies typically wake up feeling stuffy after being exposed to those creepy crawlies all night long. Regularly washing your sheets in hot water and drying them in hot heat can keep that dust mite population under control.
  4. Use hypoallergenic bedding. Investing in hypoallergenic pillow covers, mattress covers and blankets can reduce your exposure to dust mites and maybe help you sleep easier.
  5. Air out your bed. Hold off on making your bed after getting up in the morning. Leaving the blankets pulled back for a bit allows them to dry out and reduce moisture loved by dust mites and bacteria.
  6. Tub time for pets. Bathing furry housemates once a week can minimize the dander that triggers your allergies. (Keeping pets out of beds and off upholstered furniture can limit the spread of allergens, too.)
  7. Clear the air. Running an air purifier can remove troublesome allergen particulates floating around your house.
  8. Debug. Take action to rid your home of cockroaches and other bugs and pests as soon as you discover the unwanted guests.

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