If you suffer from seasonal allergies, winter can be a tough time of year. Cold weather means you're spending more time indoors, which can increase your exposure to indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold, and pet dander. There are also certain types of pollen released in the winter that can cause flu-like symptoms.
In this article, we'll discuss the topic of allergies in December by explaining what they are, what causes them, and what solutions are available to help you get relief.
What Causes Winter Seasonal Allergies?
Winter allergies are caused by an immune response within the body. If you have seasonal allergies, your body mistakes allergens in your environment as harmful invaders. When exposed to allergens, the immune system overreacts and releases histamine and other chemicals to try to protect itself.
The release of these chemicals causes the symptoms of an allergy attack, including sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and itchiness. Winter seasonal allergies are most commonly caused by indoor allergens like dust mites, pet dander, and mold.
Outdoor allergens like pollen are less of a problem in winter because there are fewer plants blooming in the colder months. However, certain types of plants primarily release their pollen in winter, so you can still experience pollen allergies during this time of year.
What Are Common Winter Allergy Symptoms?
Allergy symptoms in December look very similar to those you can experience during any other time of the year. Some allergy symptoms may resemble those of the common cold or flu, so it is important to know what allergy symptoms to look out for.
The most common allergy symptoms include:
- Itchiness in the nose, eyes, or throat
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Aggravated asthma symptoms
People with winter seasonal allergies may find that their symptoms last longer than those associated with other types of allergies. This is because the cold air can dry out the nasal passages, making it difficult for the body to get rid of the allergens causing the symptoms in the first place.
Which Allergens Trigger Symptoms in December?
There are several types of allergens that commonly trigger allergy symptoms in the winter. While the allergens in season will depend on where you live, indoor allergens can cause issues regardless of the climate you live in. Indoor allergens like dust mites and mold commonly cause allergies in winter.
Dust mites are tiny creatures that thrive in warm, humid environments. If you keep your home warmer in the winter, it can create an ideal environment for dust mites to thrive. You might also have worse dust mite allergies in the winter simply due to spending additional time indoors during the colder months. Dust mites are most commonly found in bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets.
Mold is another common allergen that can cause problems in the winter. This is because mold loves damp, dark places - and there are plenty of those in the average home during the colder months. Mold can be found in various areas, including basements, attics, and bathrooms.
While dust mites and mold are some of the most common allergens in the winter, it's important to remember that they are not the only ones that can cause problems. Other potential triggers include pet dander, cockroaches, and even certain types of pollen.
What Is Cedar Fever?
Cedar fever is worth mentioning separately from other winter allergies because it's relatively unique. Whereas indoor allergens cause most winter allergies, cedar fever is caused by an outdoor allergen: the pollen of Ashe juniper trees, a type of cedar tree that is native to Central Texas.
Cedar fever typically begins in late December and lasts through early February. Symptoms include all of the usual allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes. While the specific tree that causes this condition is only found in certain areas of the country, it can cause flu-like symptoms across the American southwest.
Winter Allergies vs. Colds
One of the challenges of living with seasonal allergies is that the symptoms can often be very similar to those of a cold. This can make it difficult to determine whether you're dealing with an allergy or a virus.
There are a few key ways to tell the difference, however. Colds typically come on gradually, whereas allergies tend to cause symptoms that appear very suddenly. Additionally, colds can be accompanied by a low-grade fever, whereas allergies are not. If your symptoms last longer than 10 days, you are more likely to be dealing with allergies.
The best way to determine whether you're dealing with an allergy or a cold is to take a quick assessment to identify what you are dealing with. Doing so will help you better understand what you're dealing with and how to best treat it.
How Are December Allergies Diagnosed?
The best way to diagnose allergies is through testing. Allergy testing is a guaranteed way to understand your symptoms and pinpoint what allergens are causing them. There are multiple methods of allergy testing available to diagnose your allergies.
Skin Prick Test
Skin prick allergy testing is the traditional method of testing. A skin prick test is exactly what it sounds like: a doctor will use a needle to prick or scratch your skin, then they will apply a small amount of the allergen to the area.
If you're allergic to the allergen, you'll typically experience swelling, redness, or itchiness at the site. While skin prick tests are effective, they are an uncomfortable experience - and they require a trip to the doctor's office, which can be time-consuming.
At-Home Allergy Test
If you're looking for a more convenient option, Wyndly offers an at-home allergy test that can be done in the comfort of your own home.
Here's how it works:
- Order Wyndly's at-home allergy test: Easily order our CLIA-certified test straight to your door.
- Take the allergy test and send it back to us: Our test is accessible and easy to administer - all you need is a small sample of blood, which you can provide via a quick finger prick. Simply mail it back when you're done.
- Receive your personalized treatment plan: Once we've received your test results, our doctor will interpret them, create an allergy profile, and walk you through your personalized treatment plan.
- Get relief from your allergies: With a better understanding of your allergies, you can finally start to get relief and get back to enjoying your life.
How to Treat Seasonal Allergies in Winter?
If you find yourself experiencing allergy symptoms in December, there are a number of steps you can take to mitigate them and find relief. Below are some of the most effective.
The first and most straightforward action you can take to reduce your allergy symptoms is to limit your exposure to whatever is triggering them.
- Check the pollen count: Before going outside, check the pollen count in your area. This will give you a good idea of how high the allergen levels are and whether it's worth venturing outside.
- Keep your windows shut: During high pollen days, keep your windows closed as much as possible - both in your home and car. This will help to keep allergens from coming inside and causing symptoms.
- Watch your outdoor hours: Pollen levels are highest in the early morning and late evening, so try to limit your time outdoors during these hours.
- Take your shoes off indoors: When you come inside, take your shoes off at the door. This will help to keep pollen and other allergens from tracking through your home.
- Wipe pets down: If you have pets that spend time outdoors, make sure to wipe them down with a damp cloth when they come inside. This will help to remove any pollen or allergens they may be carrying.
- Clean your home: Vacuum and dust regularly to reduce the allergens that build up in your home. Try to use a HEPA filter to remove allergens from the air.
- Wash off when you get home: It's a good idea to take a shower and wash your hair as soon as you come inside from a prolonged period outdoors. This will remove any pollen that may be clinging to your skin or hair.
- Do laundry more often: If you're someone who tends to let laundry pile up, it's time to change that habit. Allergens can cling to clothing, so it's important to wash them frequently. You should also wash bedding in hot water once a week.
While limiting exposure is an effective way to reduce your symptoms, it can be challenging to completely avoid exposure to your allergy triggers. There are a number of over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can be effective in providing short-term allergy symptoms.
- Antihistamines: These OTC medications are widely available and work by temporarily blocking the histamine your body releases in response to an allergen. This can help to reduce symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, and itching.
- Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays can help to reduce congestion and runny nose. They work by either reducing inflammation or constricting blood vessels.
- Eye drops: If your eyes are affected by allergies, eye drops can be very helpful in washing irritants out and reducing redness and itchiness.
Frequently OTC medications don’t provide enough relief. They are also only a temporary solution for allergies since they manage your symptoms but don’t help you get rid of your allergies.
Sublingual immunotherapy provides long-term relief from your allergies. Sublingual immunotherapy, also known as allergy drops or tablets, involves gradually introducing small doses of an allergen into the body. This gradual exposure retrains the immune system to ignore your allergy triggers instead of reacting.
Sublingual immunotherapy is as effective as allergy shots. However, there's no need to deal with painful injections or inconvenient, time-consuming doctor's appointments. You can safely take sublingual immunotherapy from the comfort of your home.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you're struggling with allergy symptoms this winter, Wyndly can help. Our doctors will create a personalized treatment plan to get you long-term relief from your allergies.
Take our brief allergy assessment to see if sublingual immunotherapy might be right for you!