What Might Be Causing Your Winter Allergies

Do you think that allergies aren't a problem during the winter? Think again. Some areas of the country experience their worst allergy season during the wintertime when mountain cedar pollinates. And even when the plants outside aren't pollinating, other triggers still exist to make your nose congested and runny. Indoor Christmas trees, outdoor mold, and irritants such as cold and windy weather are some of the non-pollen sources of wintertime nasal symptoms. Also, cold temperatures can lead to hives, which is called cold urticaria.

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 are the same as hay fever, including sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, nasal congestion and a runny nose. With both cedar fever and hay 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 around the country, people pack their pockets with tissues to combat their runny noses. But this usually isn't due to allergies—rather, it's caused by 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. This is why you may have a runny nose in cold weather.

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. In colder climates, molds can be found in the outdoor air starting in the late winter to early spring, especially during the rainy season. While indoor molds can occur year-round and are dependent on moisture levels in the home, indoor mold levels are higher when outdoor mold levels are higher. Therefore, a common source of indoor mold is from the outside environment, although can also be from indoor mold contamination.

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 years, people have suspected that along with that fresh pine scent, a freshly cut Christmas tree worsens allergy symptoms—but the reason hasn't been completely clear. Possibilities include pollen, mold spores, and strong odors emitted from the tree.

Hives in the Cold

Cold urticaria is a form of physical 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.

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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

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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.