What Might Be Causing Your Winter Allergies

Allergies can be a major problem during the winter, just when you might expect seasonal allergies to go away. That might leave you scratching your head—and your nose—as to why your symptoms aren't taking a long winter's nap.

Both indoor and outdoor allergies can be a problem during the cold months. This article looks at indoor and outdoor winter allergy triggers, why they may be worse during the colder months, and what else could be causing your symptoms.

Common Causes for Winter Allergies

Verywell / Shideh Ghandeharizadeh

Indoor Winter Allergy Triggers

Most indoor allergy triggers aren't unique to wintertime. You probably encounter them to some degree all year, but several aspects of winter may make them worse:

  • You likely spend more time inside when it's cold.
  • The windows are probably closed a lot more.
  • You have the furnace running, kicking things up and drying the air. Dry air means dry nasal passages that are prone to irritation.

A key to controlling indoor allergy symptoms is to figure out what's causing them.

Dust, Mold, Pests, and Pet Dander

Common indoor allergens include:

  • Dust particles and dust mites: Dry skin and more time inside can lead to more dust, and that leads to more of the mites that feed on dust.
  • Mold and mildew: Depending on the climate where you live, mold and mildew may be worse in the winter due to wetter weather.
  • Pests, such as cockroaches and mice: Some people are allergic to cockroach shells and feces; others may react to dander, urine, feces, and parasites left behind by rodents looking for a warm place to hole up.
  • Pet dander: Your pets may spend more time inside when it's cold, which leads to more dander. Dander is a protein on animal fur and it's what most people are allergic to rather than the fur itself.

While these allergens may be in your environment year-round, winter can have you sealed inside with them. That could make your symptoms worse.

Christmas Tree Allergies

This is one possible allergen that is unique to the season. Some people are allergic to pine trees, so bringing a Christmas tree inside can cause symptoms.

You may even be bothered if you're not allergic to the tree itself. The tree may be covered in allergens such as pollen or mold spores. If you have fragrance sensitivities, the strong odor of the Christmas tree may be irritating.

Outdoor Winter Allergy Triggers

Winter does present some outdoor allergy triggers that you may not encounter at other times of the year.

Mold, Once Again

In colder climates, molds can be found in the outdoor air starting in the late winter to early spring, especially during the rainy season.

Not only will this aggravate your allergies when you're outdoors, high outdoor mold usually leads to higher indoor levels, as well.

Mountain Cedar Pollen

In some areas, mountain cedar trees are a major source of outdoor winter allergies. Also called the Ashe juniper, rock cedar, or Texas cedar, this tree is native to:

  • Southern Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • Central and western Texas
  • Northern Mexico

The mountain cedar pollinates in the winter, from December through March. It's usually the only major source of pollen during the wintertime. It can release so much pollen that it looks like the trees are smoldering and putting off clouds of smoke.

In areas where these trees are common, people often refer to a mountain cedar allergy as “cedar fever.” (As with "hay fever," it doesn't actually involve a fever.)

A Family of Allergy Triggers

Other parts of the United States have related species of cedar, juniper, and cypress trees that cause springtime allergies. The pollen is so similar within this family of trees that if you're allergic to one, you're likely allergic to the others, as well.

Hives From the Cold

While it's not a true allergy, it's possible to have an allergic-like reaction to cold temperatures. A condition called cold urticaria causes hives, swelling, and other symptoms when the skin is exposed to cold. This can be triggered by:

  • Cold weather
  • Cold food and drinks
  • Swimming in cold water

If you notice hives or swelling with cold exposure, talk to your healthcare provider. This condition can cause swelling in the mouth and throat that restricts your breathing.

Cold urticaria is treated with antihistamines (allergy medications). People with severe reactions often carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), just like those with severe allergies to peanuts or other foods.

Seasonal Allergies Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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Winter Allergy Symptoms

Winter allergy symptoms are the same as other seasonal allergy symptoms. They include:

  • Stuffed-up or runny nose
  • Itchy eyes, nose, mouth, or throat
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Puffiness around the eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Rashes or dry, itchy skin
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Morning headaches
  • "Allergic shiners" (dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion)
  • With allergic asthma, wheezing and shortness of breath

A severe allergic reaction may involve swelling in your throat that makes it difficult or impossible to breathe. This is called anaphylaxis and it's always a medical emergency.

Anaphylaxis is more common in people allergic to food, insect stings, latex, and medications than with seasonal allergies. Still, it can occur with hay fever. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Hives or swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat

If someone appears to be in anaphylaxis, immediately use an EpiPen (if one is available) and call 911.

What Else Is Making You Sneeze?

Not all wintertime sneezing and stuffiness are caused by allergies. A few other things could be causing similar symptoms:

  • Common cold: When you catch a cold, symptoms may be almost identical to those of allergies.
  • Non-allergic rhinitis: This condition is caused by irritation of the nasal passages from things like dry air, pollutants, and strong odors.
  • Irritation from wood smoke: Wood smoke can cause non-allergic rhinitis plus serious respiratory problems, especially in people with lung conditions such as asthma.
SYMPTOM COLDS ALLERGIES
Fever Rarely Never
Body aches Sometimes Never
Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes
Weakness Sometimes Sometimes
Stuffy nose Often Often
Sneezing Often Often
Sore throat Often Sometimes
Chest discomfort Sometimes Rare*
*Common in those with allergic asthma.

Winter Allergy Treatment

You can get rid of winter allergy symptoms with standard allergy treatments such as:

If over-the-counter medications don't offer enough relief, talk to your healthcare provider about prescription alternatives.

Winter Allergy Prevention

The best way to deal with winter allergies is by preventing contact with things you're allergic to. You may not be able to avoid them entirely, but you can take steps to reduce the amount of contact.

Inside, reduce allergy risk by:

  • Dusting and vacuuming frequently
  • Eliminating carpet, rugs, throw pillows, and other soft things that catch dust and other allergens
  • Using hypoallergenic mattress and pillow covers to reduce dust-mite exposure
  • Washing bedding, pet beds, and curtains often in hot water
  • Using high-quality air filters on your furnace/air conditioner
  • Using air purifiers
  • Cleaning or changing air filters often
  • Calling an exterminator for cockroach or rodent problems
  • Checking damp areas for mold
  • Bathing and brushing your pets frequently
  • Keeping pets off of your bed
  • Using an artificial Christmas tree and keeping it protected from dust while it's stored

To avoid outside allergy triggers:

  • Stay inside when pollen, wood smoke, or pollution levels are high
  • Stay inside when it's rainy or windy to avoid mold spores
  • Use mold-reducing products in your car's heater/air conditioner
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or surgical mask
  • Change your clothes and shower when you come inside

Reducing allergen exposure can make you less dependent on medications while also making you feel better overall.

Summary

Winter allergies are possible from both indoor and outdoor allergens. Many of those allergens are in the environment all year while others are unique to the winter months.

Possible winter allergens include dust, mold, pet dander, and Christmas trees. In some southern states, mountain cedar trees are a major source of winter pollen.

Winter allergies have the same symptoms and treatments as any seasonal allergies. This can include antihistamines, decongestants, and many other options. Avoiding allergens can reduce your need for medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you have seasonal allergies in the winter?

    Yes, you can have seasonal allergies in the winter. Many allergy triggers—such as dust and pet dander—are around all year. Wetter areas may also have a lot of mold, while warmer areas may even have high pollen levels.

  • What are some common causes of winter allergies?

    Indoor allergens like dust, mold, and pet dander may be more concentrated in the winter. Christmas trees can also be a trigger. In some warm, southern states, mountain cedar trees are a common winter allergen.

  • What can you do to treat winter allergies?

    The best way to manage winter allergies is to avoid allergens. Keeping your home free of dust and mold and bathing your pets can help. If that's not enough, you can use antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and irrigation, and allergy eye drops to treat your symptoms.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Mold allergy.

  3. The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Plant database: Juniperus ashei.

  4. Schmidt CW. Pollen overload: Seasonal allergies in a changing climate. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124(4):A70-5. doi:10.1289/ehp.124-A70

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Welts on skin due to cold temperature could be hives.

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  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Anaphylaxis.

  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wood smoke and your health.

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