Everything You Need to Know About Winter Allergies

By Alicia Wooldridge, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 6, 2022

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can range from slightly annoying to seriously debilitating.

Understanding how allergies work — and when your allergies flare up — can help you control your symptoms so you don’t feel miserable during allergy season. 

While many people experience seasonal allergies during the spring, summer, and fall months when trees, grass, and weeds are pollinating, it’s also possible to experience winter allergies, especially if you’re allergic to something indoors or you live in a region where plants pollinate all year.

No matter when your allergies bother you, a healthcare provider can help you find a treatment that’s effective for you. 

In this article, I’ll discuss winter  allergy symptoms and common causes of winter allergies.

I’ll also explore how to tell if it’s allergies or a cold and treatments for winter allergies.

Lastly, I’ll explain tips for preventing winter allergies and when to see a doctor. 

Winter Allergies Symptoms

When you’re allergic to something in the environment, your body releases chemicals — for example, one called histamine — that create an allergic response to protect you from the allergen. 

Different people are allergic to different things, and allergy symptoms can also vary from person to person.

Common symptoms of allergies include: 

In general, allergy symptoms don’t change depending on the season.

It’s possible that dry winter air may make allergies worse, or cause additional symptoms.

For example, someone with winter allergies might experience more itchiness due to dry skin.

It’s also possible for winter allergies to result in dry mucous membranes or nose bleeds. 

Concerned about allergies? Chat with a provider through K Health.

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Common Causes of Winter Allergies

Winter allergies, like spring, summer, and fall allergies, can stem from a number of causes.

In warmer climates, like the southwestern region of the United States, people can experience winter allergies to trees that continue pollinating in the winter.

Commonly, people experience winter allergies due to indoor allergens.

Most of us spend more time indoors during those darker, colder months, which may cause allergy symptoms to increase.

Here are some of the most common causes of winter allergens. 

Dust mites

Dust mites are tiny bugs that inhabit carpet, rugs, mattresses, and upholstered furniture.

They also live in house dust throughout the home and feed on dead skin cells.

Many people are allergic to a protein found in dust mite droppings, which can trigger allergy symptoms in the winter. 

Pet dander

Animals, especially cats and dogs, have tiny bits of protein called dander in their skin, urine, and saliva.

People with pet dander allergies experience symptoms when they’re around animals or in an environment where pet dander is in the air or on surfaces. 

Mold

You may not always see it, but mold — a form of fungi — is all around you, both inside and outdoors.

Mold develops and thrives in moist conditions, such as basements or bathrooms.

Some people are allergic to mold “seeds,” called mold spores.

There are several different kinds of mold, and you can be allergic to one and not another. 

Cockroaches

Cockroach body parts, saliva, and excrement contain a protein many people are allergic to.

If you’re allergic to this protein and you’re exposed to this insect — even a dead one — you could experience winter allergy symptoms. 

How to Tell if it’s Allergies or a Cold

Upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold, are more common in the winter months.

If you have bothersome respiratory symptoms, you may be wondering if it’s seasonal allergies or a cold.

Both can cause a runny nose, congestion, cough, and headache, but there are some key distinctions. 

If you can’t determine what’s making you feel unwell, consider your symptoms.

Allergies typically don’t cause a fever, while infections — including colds — may result in a fever or chills.

It’s also unlikely that allergies would cause significant aches and pains.

Most people don’t experience itchy eyes or skin with a cold as they would with allergies. 

Duration is another key factor.

Colds typically last a week or two, while allergies usually persist until you treat them (as long as you’re exposed to an allergen). 

If you’re unsure about whether you have winter allergies or a cold, check in with your doctor.

A medical provider can diagnose you and suggest a treatment plan for whatever’s causing your symptoms. 

Treatments for Winter Allergies

While winter allergies can cause uncomfortable symptoms and even interfere with your daily functioning, there are plenty of effective ways to treat them. 

Home remedies

Home remedies may improve your allergy symptoms.

If your winter allergies are bothering you, consider the following non-medication treatments. 

  • Irrigate your sinuses: Flushing your nose with a saline rinse (like using a neti pot) can clear allergens out of your nasal passages, in turn reducing your allergy symptoms. 
  • Use a humidifier: If your air is dry, adding moisture to the environment with a cool mist humidifier may improve your allergy symptoms. Just be careful to clean your humidifier frequently to avoid mold and mildew, which can make allergies worse. Pay attention, too, to overall allergy levels in your house to avoid mold.
  • Try an herbal supplement: A supplement called butterbur, aka Petasites hybridus, has been shown in at least one study to be as effective as antihistamines in improving itchy eyes associated with allergies. 
  • Smell an essential oil: Smelling an essential oil can promote relaxation, which is always useful if you’re not feeling great. Some oils may actually have therapeutic properties. One study shows lavender oil can prevent mucus cells from enlarging and stave off inflammation, which may also improve winter allergy symptoms. 

Medications

If the above home remedies don’t improve your allergies, there are several over-the-counter allergy medications available. 

  • Antihistamines: These over-the-counter medications work by stopping the effects of histamine, the chemical that causes your winter allergy symptoms. Common antihistamines are loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), or fexofenadine (Allegra). Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can also improve allergy symptoms, but it tends to cause more sleepiness than newer drugs.
  • Nasal sprays: Exposure to an allergen, especially through your nasal passages, can cause upper respiratory symptoms. Nasal sprays that contain steroids can fend off inflammation in the nose, making it easier for mucus to drain. Some nasal sprays contain saline, which can help to flush allergens from your sinus passages. Decongestant sprays help with congestion, but they may cause more side effects, including a risk for dependence.
  • Eye drops: If your winter allergies cause red, itchy, or dry eyes, eye drops with antihistamines may help. Keep in mind allergy eye drops won’t improve your overall allergy symptoms. 
  • Immunotherapy: If your allergies don’t go away with other medications, your doctor might suggest immunotherapy. By injecting tiny amounts of allergens into your body, immunotherapy can help desensitize your immune system to them over time. Treatment takes place in an allergist’s office, and it usually lasts a few years. 

Tips for Preventing Winter Allergies

If you suffer from winter allergies, first, identify what you’re allergic to.

Keeping a journal of your symptoms can help you identify triggers.

Doing your best to avoid your triggers is the best way to prevent symptoms.

For example, if you’re allergic to pet dander, try not to visit homes where pets live, or if you have pets yourself, try to vacuum more often. 

Other ways to prevent winter allergies include: 

  • Vacuuming or dusting more frequently, especially if you have carpet 
  • Washing your bedding on a regular basis 
  • Adding a hypoallergenic cover to your mattress so you aren’t exposed to dust mites
  • Using a dehumidifier if you have excess moisture in your home 
  • Keeping pets out of your room 
  • Bathing pets frequently
  • Using pest control tools to fend off cockroaches 
  • Purchasing an air purifier
  • Keeping rugs out of your bedroom and, if possible, carpeting 
  • Using a high-efficiency furnace filter

Concerned about allergies? Chat with a provider through K Health.

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When to See a Doctor

A healthcare provider is your best resource for diagnosing and treating winter allergies.

If you have winter allergy symptoms that aren’t going away with home treatment, or you’re not sure whether you’re allergic to something or you have a cold, make an appointment with a provider. 

For people with asthma, allergies can trigger wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath.

If your asthma symptoms worsen due to allergies, your healthcare provider can recommend the best treatment plan for you.

Seek emergency care if you’re having an asthma attack and your usual medication isn’t helping.

You should also call 911 or go to the emergency department if you’re experiencing signs of anaphylaxis, such as: 

If you have an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) for allergic reactions, give it to yourself as soon as you notice an allergic reaction.

You still need emergency care if the medicine helps your symptoms after you take it.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes.

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What would cause allergies in the winter?
Depending on your location, outdoor allergens such as pollen can cause allergies in the winter. More commonly, indoor allergens such as mold, pet dander, dust mites, and cockroaches contribute to winter allergies.
What allergies come out in winter?
When you have allergy symptoms depends on what you’re allergic to. If you’re allergic to indoor allergens like dust, pet dander, mold, or cockroaches, you could experience winter allergies or year-round allergies.
What allergies are worse in winter?
If you have year-round allergies or winter allergies, you could experience worsening symptoms when it’s cold and dry. All allergies can cause itchy skin, but winter air is dryer, which can cause worsening dryness or even skin cracking or bleeding.
Can you get seasonal allergies in the winter?
It’s possible to get seasonal allergies in the winter, depending on your location. In the southwestern United States, for example, some trees still pollinate in the winter months.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Alicia Wooldridge, MD

Dr. Alicia Wooldridge is a board certified Family Medicine physician with over a decade of experience.