Winter Allergies—Triggers and 5 Natural Solutions

Monday Feb 17 | BY |
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Winter Allergies 2

Winter allergies can be worse than spring ones, causing symptoms that feel like a cold.

When most of us think of allergies, we think of grasses, weeds, hay, pollen, and all the other things that get lively in the spring and summer. Surely symptoms like sneezing and itchy, watery eyes should go away when the snow comes?

Not so for many folks. Winter allergies exist, and exist in a big way, often masquerading as colds. Typically caused by dust, mites, pet dander, mold, pollution, and smoke, they can be just as disruptive, if not more so, than spring allergies.

Here’s more about what may be triggering your symptoms, and some natural solutions to help you feel better.

What Are Winter Allergies?

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates there are 40 million people in the U.S. with indoor allergies. For some, winter allergies can actually be worse than spring and summer ones, as most of us spend a lot more times indoors where allergens like pet dander and mold may be lurking.

Weather sealing the house can make these allergens worse, concentrating them and making it more difficult for us to avoid them. Cold winter weather and a lack of sunlight can also sap our defenses, making the immune system even more vulnerable to attack. The longer you suffer winter allergies untreated, the more you may feel fatigued and run down, since your body is always fighting off the triggers.

Even outside you may experience symptoms. Mountain cedar trees pollinate in winter, from December through March, and airborne molds—which are well-known causes of sinus and asthma symptoms—can be present indoors and outdoors. Some people are allergic to their Christmas trees (and may not know it), and others are simply sensitive to the cold air, which can trigger “cold urticaria,” a form of hives or rashes that develop in response to cold, pressure, exercise, and more. Winter weather can create inversions in your area, where the cloud cover traps air pollutants, smoke, and allergens, making them more irritating to sensitive individuals.

Scientists also tell us that climate change is making winter allergies worse. With global warming, spring now comes about 25 days earlier than it did in the 1970s, and the winter freeze is delayed, making spring and summer allergy season longer, further tapping our systems. The rise in daytime temperatures also exacerbates smog and air pollution, as hotter air traps polluted air particles.

How Do I Know It’s Not a Cold?

Though allergy symptoms can mimic winter colds, there are some key differences that can help you determine which you have. The main one is that allergy symptoms aren’t likely to go away after than 10 days or so, like cold symptoms do. If they tend to be with you week after week, and if you experience relief after taking an antihistamine, it may be allergies. Other differences include:

  • Nasal secretions—If you have allergies, they’re most likely clear; colds make your nose run with yellow or green secretions.
  • Onset—A cold will come on gradually, and you’ll feel a little worse each day. Allergies typically come on more suddenly, causing symptoms the instant you’re exposed to the trigger.
  • Itchiness—If you have itchy eyes, skin, tongue, or throat, most likely it’s allergies.
  • Aches and chills—If you have these, it’s a good bet you’re suffering from a cold.
  • Duration—Colds are usually over within 7-10 days or so. If your symptoms persist four weeks or longer, you’re probably dealing with allergens.

Another clue—if you have spring and/or summer allergies, you’re likely to suffer from winter allergies, too.

Understand Your Triggers

The first step in managing allergies is to discover what your triggers are, and try to avoid them. Your allergy doctor can test you for various allergens, which can give you a clear map of your symptoms and what causes them. Then you can take steps to rid your home of things like mold and pet dander, for instance, or adopt some coping techniques.

Following are some lifestyle tips that can help you cut down on the allergens you’re exposed to during the winter:

  • Check for mold: A common allergen, mold can also be damaging to your health. The EPA suggests increasing ventilation in damp areas (such as the bathrooms), cleaning more frequently, and scrubbing existing mold off surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. (Good natural cleaners include vinegar and tea tree oil.) Realize that mold can hide on the back side of dry wall, wallpaper, and paneling, in the underside of carpets, and on the top side of ceiling tiles. If your efforts don’t help, consider bringing in a mold expert to investigate. When outdoors, realize that mold grows in dark, wooded areas, and avoid these areas if you’re sensitive.
  • Dust-proof covers: Use these on your mattresses, box springs and pillowcases.
  • Bed linens: Wash regularly in hot water to kill dust mites.
  • Plants: Though houseplants are great indoor air purifiers, they can also be triggers for some people. Avoid putting them in the bedroom, and regularly trim away decaying leaves and watch the soil for mold.
  • Pets: They are a common source of allergens. Groom them regularly, vacuum and dust often, and keep them out of your bedroom.
  • Filters: Use allergy-filtering furnace filters, and change monthly. Also consider an air filter or purifier to help keep indoor air cleaner.
  • Get some fresh air: On warm days, open the windows to get some fresh air into the house.
  • Wash frequently: Washing your hands, face, and clothes regularly reduces the number of allergens you are exposed to. Always shower after coming home from a long day to get rid of potential allergens on your skin and hair before retiring.

Natural Solutions to Irritating Winter Allergy Symptoms

In addition to avoiding your triggers, you can try the following natural solutions to help tame winter allergy symptoms.

  1. Quercetin: This natural plant compound helps prevent the body from reacting to allergens. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that in laboratory tests, quercetin actually prevented immune cells from releasing histamines—the chemicals that cause allergic reactions. Quercetin is also a natural anti-inflammatory, which may help reduce hives, rashes, swelling, and puffy eyes. Try 1,000 mg/day, taken with meals.
  2. Stinging nettle: This plant extract also inhibits the body’s ability to release antihistamines, acting much like over-the-counter allergy medications. One 1990 study suggested that nettle capsules may help reduce sneezing and itching in people with hay fever. Try 300 mg/day.
  3. Butterbur: A Swiss study found that this herb was as effective in treating allergy symptoms as the drug “cetrizine,” which is the active ingredient in Zyrtec. Better yet, it didn’t cause drowsiness. An NCCAM-funded literature review also reported that butterbur was just as effective as a commonly used oral antihistamine for symptoms like itchy eyes. Try 50-200 mg a day.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids: A number of studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids with an increased resistance to allergies. Research published in 2012, for example, found that fish oil supplements decreased allergic responses to allergens like dust mites. A 2005 study found that a high content of omega-3s in the diet was associated with a decreased risk of allergic rhinitis.
  5. Green tea: A 2002 study found that drinking green tea may provide some relief to allergy sufferers. Researchers discovered that the potent antioxidant in the beverage—methylated epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—may block key cells involved in the allergic response. A 2013 study also noted that green tea can strongly inhibit histamine release, and helped sufferers of cedar allergies to feel better.

Do you suffer from winter allergies? Please share your tips with our readers.

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Sources
“Winter Allergies,” Allergy Associates of Utah, http://www.utahallergies.com/allergy-info/allergy-information/winter-allergies.html.

“Quercetin,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/quercetin.

“Stinging Nettle,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/stinging-nettle.

Schapowal A. Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis. BMJ. 2002;324(7330):144–146, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11799030.

Bielory L, Heimall J. Review of complementary and alternative medicine in treatment of ocular allergies. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2003;3(5):395–399, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14501441.

Russell Martin, “Butterbur Extract,” Life Extension Magazine, May 2006, http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2006/may2006_report_butterbur_01.htm.

Stephen Daniells, “Omega-3s may protect children against allergies: Human data,” Nutraingredients-usa.com, http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Omega-3s-may-protect-children-against-allergies-Human-data.

Hoff S, et al., “Allergic sensitization and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes,” Eur J Clin Nutr, 2005 Sep;59(9):1071-80, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16015268.

American Chemical Society (2002, September 19). Green Tea May Fight Allergies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/09/020919071413.htm.

Maeda-Yamamoto M, “Human clinical studies of tea polyphenols in allergy or life style-related diseases,” Curr Pharm Des. 2013;19(34):6148-55, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23448449.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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