For many people, wintertime isn't just about the cold weather - it's also a time of year when allergies can occur. If you're one of the millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies, you're probably all too familiar with the sneezing, sniffling, and watery eyes that come along with them. But what exactly are January allergies, and how do they occur?
What Causes Winter Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies, regardless of the time of year in which they occur, are the result of an adverse immune response to an otherwise harmless environmental trigger. When this environmental trigger enters the body, the immune system mistakes it for a harmful invader and produces antibodies to attack it.
These antibodies release chemicals, like histamine, into the bloodstream to protect the body. It is the release of these chemicals that cause the symptoms commonly associated with seasonal allergies, such as runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing.
Winter allergies are most often caused by indoor irritants like dust mites, mold, and pet dander. Of course, specific irritants can also depend on where you live - those in climates that are warm year-round are more likely to experience outdoor triggers like pollen, even in the middle of winter.
Which Allergens Trigger Symptoms in January?
Most irritants responsible for symptoms during this time of year can be found indoors. However, depending on where you live and the climate you experience, you may find that your particular triggers are outdoor allergens that are active even in the middle of winter.
The human body can be reactive to numerous indoor allergens, but the three most common that lead to winter seasonal allergies are dust mites, mold, and pet dander.
Dust mites are tiny creatures that thrive in humid environments. They're often found in places like bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets - basically anywhere that there's a lot of dust.
These microscopic creatures feed off dead skin cells shed by humans and animals, which means they're present in just about every home.
Mold is a type of fungus that's found both indoors and outdoors. It grows in moist or humid environments and can often be found in bathrooms, basements, and kitchens.
Mold spores are tiny and can easily become airborne, which can be inhaled and cause an allergic reaction.
Pet dander is a type of allergen that's produced by animals with fur or feathers. It's made up of skin cells, saliva, and urine and can be found in every area of the home where your pet spends time.
Even if you don't have a pet, it's possible to experience an allergic reaction to pet dander if you're exposed to it in someone else's home.
Cedar fever is a type of allergy that's caused by pollen from the Mountain Cedar tree. It's common in Central Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, and New Mexico and typically peaks between December and February.
Symptoms of cedar fever include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion. Some people may also experience headaches, fatigue, and body aches.
If you live in an area where cedar fever is common, it's important to avoid pollen exposure. This includes staying indoors on days when the pollen count is high and wearing a mask when you have to go outside.
Common Winter Allergy Symptoms
Considering how they result from the same biological reaction, winter allergies generally cause the same symptoms as those that occur during other times of the year. The specific ones that you may experience can vary depending on the trigger, but some of the most common winter allergy symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy nose, throat, or roof of the mouth
- Post-nasal drip
- Dark circles under the eyes (allergic shiners)
If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect they may result from allergies, the best thing you can do for yourself is get tested.
Winter Allergies vs. Colds
The tough thing about allergies and colds is that their symptoms can be very similar. Allergies and colds can result in coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose. The best way to tell the difference is to pay attention to other symptoms you may be experiencing.
If your only symptom is a runny nose, you likely have a cold. However, if you're also experiencing itchiness, watery eyes, or hives you're more likely dealing with allergies.
Colds can also last for up to two weeks, while allergies are a chronic condition that can flare up at any time. If you're unsure whether you're dealing with a cold or allergies, the best thing to do is research your symptoms and get tested for allergies.
How Are January Allergies Diagnosed?
If you're experiencing any allergy symptoms during the winter, taking an allergy test is the best way to find relief. Understanding what allergens are causing your symptoms will help you find an effective allergy treatment plan to get rid of your symptoms.
There are several different methods of allergy testing available. Traditional allergy testing methods are often inconvenient and uncomfortable. However, easy at-home allergy testing is available through Wyndly. Learn the differences between each type of testing.
Skin Prick Test
When most people think of allergy testing, they think of the skin prick test. A skin prick test involves an allergist pricking or scraping patients' skin with a needle tipped with various allergens.
After scraping the skin, the allergist observes the patient for signs of an allergic reaction, such as itchiness, redness, or swelling. If your body reacts with one or all of these signs, you're likely allergic to that specific substance.
Skin prick testing can be a time-consuming and uncomfortable approach to allergy testing. Identifying an allergist and booking an appointment alone can take several weeks to months. Not only will you have to take this test in person at an allergist’s office, but you’ll have to deal with itchy hives afterward if you end up being allergic to one of the allergens you were exposed to during the test.
At-Home Allergy Test
Unlike skin prick tests, at-home allergy testing kits are more user-friendly and pain-free. Here's how they work:
- Order Wyndly's at-home allergy test online. Our CLIA-certified tests are shipped directly to your doorstep.
- Take the allergy test and send it back to us. It just takes one quick finger prick test to provide a blood sample. Then, you'll mail it back when you're done.
- Receive your personalized treatment plan. Our doctor will interpret your test results, develop an allergy profile, and then meet with you to discuss your personalized treatment plan. An allergy test can reveal the full breadth of your allergies. This way, you know exactly what you're allergic to and how you can treat your symptoms.
An at-home allergy test is a comfortable, simple solution that gives you an in-depth understanding of your environmental and seasonal allergies.
How to Treat Seasonal Allergies in Winter?
If you find yourself experiencing allergy symptoms in January, 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: 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 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 sufficient relief. They are 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!