What Might Be Causing Your Winter Allergies

Allergies can be a major problem for some people during the winter. Some areas of the country have their worst allergy season during the wintertime when mountain cedar pollinates.

And other winter allergy triggers can make your nose congested and runny. Christmas trees, mold, and cold and windy weather are some of the non-pollen sources of wintertime nasal rhinitis (nasal allergy symptoms). Also, cold temperatures can lead to cold urticaria, a type of hives.

Woman with flu or allergies sneezes while outside in winter
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Winter Cedar Pollen Allergies

Mountain cedar is a type of juniper tree found mainly in South and Central Texas that pollinates in the winter, from December through March. In the areas where it grows, it is usually the only major pollen present during the wintertime. Mountain cedar can release such large amounts of pollen that the trees can appear to be on fire, with large clouds of “smoke” rising from the trees. Mountain cedar is a major cause of hay fever, and people who suffer from this form of pollen allergy typically refer to it as “cedar fever.”

Mountain cedar allergy symptoms include sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, nasal congestion, and a runny nose. With cedar fever, a person will not actually have a fever.

Other parts of the United States have related species of cedar, juniper, and cypress trees that cause springtime allergies. Because pollen is so similar within this family of trees, a person who is allergic to mountain cedar pollen will also be allergic to pollen from juniper and cypress trees.

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Runny Noses in Cold Weather

As the weather starts to turn cold and crisp, you might notice that you are packing your pockets with tissues. But having a runny nose in cold weather usually isn't due to allergies—it is non-allergic vasomotor rhinitis. This non-allergic form of rhinitis may result in a runny nose, post-nasal drip, and/or nasal congestion. It is caused by a number of triggers, including temperature changes, windy weather, changes in humidity, strong odors, perfumes, and smoke.

Mold Allergies in the Winter

Your mold allergy may make you miserable in winter. Airborne molds are well-known causes of allergic rhinitis and asthma symptoms. They can be present outdoors and indoors. Indoor mold contamination can be present year-round and often depends on moisture levels in the home.

In colder climates, molds can be found in the outdoor air starting in the late winter to early spring, especially during the rainy season. Additionally, indoor mold levels are higher when outdoor mold levels are higher, and the outdoor environment is a common source of indoor mold.

Christmas Tree Allergies

Think your allergies and asthma get worse once you bring that fresh pine tree indoors during the holidays? It may be more than just your imagination. For some people, Christmas trees worsen allergy symptoms. Contributing factors include pollen, mold spores, and strong odors emitted from the tree.

Hives in the Cold

Cold urticaria is a form of urticaria that is characterized by the development of hives and swelling with cold exposure. A variety of cold triggers can cause symptoms in people with this syndrome, including cold weather, cold food and drinks, and swimming in cold water.

If you notice hives or swelling with cold exposure, you should seek an allergy evaluation. Your doctor might advise you to carry an epinephrine auto-injector to use in the event of anaphylaxis. It is also best to avoid jumping into cold water. With cold urticaria, there is a risk of severe allergic reactions causing anaphylaxis or drowning if you jump into cold water.

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Article Sources
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  1. Singleton R, Halverstam CP. Diagnosis and management of cold urticaria. Cutis. 2016;97(1):59-62.

  2. Schmidt CW. Pollen Overload: Seasonal Allergies in a Changing Climate. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124(4):A70-5. doi:10.1289/ehp.124-A70

  3. Symptoms and Remedies for Cedar Fever.Texas MedClinic. 2013.

  4. Pattanaik D, Lieberman P. Vasomotor rhinitis. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2010;10(2):84-91. doi:10.1007/s11882-010-0089-z

Additional Reading
  • Mold Allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
  • Hochstadter EF, Ben-Shoshan M. Cold-induced urticaria: challenges in diagnosis and management. Case Reports. 2013;2013(jul08 1). doi:10.1136/bcr-2013-010441

  • Wallace D, Dykewicz M, Bernstein D, et al. The diagnosis and management of rhinitis: An updated practice parameter. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2008;122(2). doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2008.06.003

  • Willson TJ, Shams A, Lospinoso J, Weitzel E, Mcmains K. Searching for Cedar. Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 2015;153(5):770-774. doi:10.1177/0194599815601650

  • Rockwell WJ, Santilli J. Mold Allergy, and Live Christmas Trees. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008; 100(s1):P59.