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Charlotte, NC: A Haven for Winter Allergies

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Richard E. Collins III, MD
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Richard E. Collins III, MD

Did you know that allergies occur year-round and winter allergies can be as severe as spring and summer allergies? In Charlotte, North Carolina mild winters and sizzling summer days are no relief for allergy sufferers during the winter months. It’s pretty much always allergy season around here.

In order to manage these allergies effectively and enjoy your holiday season to its fullest extent, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center first wants to ensure you understand your allergy symptoms and their cause. Read on to learn more about common winter allergens, and when you might just have a cold instead.

What are Winter Allergies?

Winter allergies are similar to spring allergies in their seasonal nature, however, these are less often caused by pollen or plants outdoors and are instead typically triggered by indoor allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, and cockroach droppings.

The largest distinction between winter allergies and other seasonal allergies is that winter allergies may persist year-round, while symptoms are at their most pervasive during winter. After all, people spend time indoors throughout the year, although that amount of time does increase greatly in the colder months.

Spring and summer allergies are often caused by outdoor allergens like pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. Fall allergies can be triggered by different types of pollen as well as mold spores present in outdoor environments. Symptoms for these seasonal allergies may worsen during specific times of the year when certain allergens are more prevalent.

Winter allergies are exacerbated by spending more time indoors in tightly sealed homes with heating systems, creating an environment conducive to the proliferation of indoor allergens.

It’s important for individuals experiencing allergy symptoms to identify the specific triggers and seek appropriate medical advice for effective management and relief. One of our allergists can perform tests to determine specific allergens causing reactions and recommend strategies to reduce exposure and alleviate symptoms.

Common Winter Allergens in North Carolina

Pollen may not be a factor for winter allergy sufferers, but there are a lot of other triggers. The following are some of the top triggers in Charlotte, NC for winter allergies.

  1. Pet Dander may cause worse allergies in winter than in summer as your pets most likely spend more time indoors than during other seasons. This means you or your child’s exposure to pet dander is heightened which, in turn, leads to worsening symptoms like rhinitis.
  2. Damp Wood is a great attraction to mold spores. Cut wood that you keep outdoors quickly becomes damp and becomes a perfect environment for mold spores to collect in. Bringing the wood indoors, even briefly before burning, is a sure way to bring indoors a classic winter allergy trigger.
  3. Mold and Mildew round out the top three triggers for Charlotte’s winter allergy sufferers. Dead leaves and other winter yard debris are the best breeding grounds for mold and mildew. Mold and mildew cling to your clothing and shoes making them the perfect transportation system for these allergens to come into your home.

Another effect of spending time indoors during the colder months is reduced ventilation. When you have the heating turned up high, the circulation of possible allergens is lessened, and you might find that the air starts to feel a little stuffy. As this occurs, your symptoms will likely worsen as you’ll be more surrounded by your allergens. The best way to combat this is by opening a window or turning down the heat on the rare days that you’re able to.

Symptoms of Winter Allergies

Winter allergies can manifest with a range of symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and skin allergies like hives or allergic dermatitis. Individuals with winter allergies may experience persistent nasal congestion, leading to discomfort and difficulty breathing. Itchy skin, especially around the eyes and nose, is a common complaint. Allergic dermatitis, which can result in red, itchy skin or hives, may occur due to pet allergies or certain cleaning products. These symptoms can significantly impact one’s quality of life, especially during the winter months when people tend to spend more time indoors.

Distinguishing between winter allergies and other respiratory conditions like the common cold or flu is essential. While cold and flu symptoms may overlap with some allergy symptoms, there are key differences. Allergies typically do not cause fever, muscle aches, or severe fatigue, which are common in the flu. Additionally, cold symptoms often include a gradual onset, while allergy symptoms can appear suddenly after exposure to specific triggers. If symptoms persist for an extended period, it may be indicative of allergies rather than a viral infection.

If individuals experience persistent or severe symptoms of winter allergies, it is advisable to seek medical advice. An allergist can perform tests to identify specific allergens triggering the reactions. Medical consultation is particularly crucial if symptoms interfere with daily activities, and sleep, or if over-the-counter medications provide insufficient relief. Additionally, if there is uncertainty about whether symptoms are due to allergies, a cold, or the flu, consulting a healthcare professional at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center can help in making an accurate diagnosis.

In cases of severe allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, or a widespread rash, immediate medical attention is necessary, as these symptoms may indicate anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Overall, seeking timely medical advice ensures proper diagnosis and management of winter allergies, improving the individual’s overall well-being.

Winter Allergies vs. a Cold

Winter allergies and colds can share similar symptoms, making it essential to discern between the two. Winter allergies typically manifest with symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, and, in some cases, skin allergies like hives or allergic dermatitis. Unlike colds, which are caused by viral infections and last about a week, winter allergies can persist throughout the season due to exposure to indoor allergens like dust mites, pet dander, or mold spores.

The immune response mechanisms also differ. Winter allergies involve the release of histamines and other chemicals in response to exposure to allergens, representing an exaggerated immune response to typically harmless substances. On the other hand, colds are viral infections, primarily caused by rhinoviruses, prompting the body to initiate an immune response to eliminate the virus.

For self-diagnosis, individuals can consider the pattern of symptoms—persistent, consistent symptoms may indicate allergies, while sudden onset and a week-long duration may point towards a cold. Notably, the absence of a fever and the presence of symptoms like itchy eyes or skin allergies are more indicative of allergies. However, if uncertainty persists or symptoms are severe, persistent, or interfere with daily life, consulting a healthcare professional is crucial. Allergists can conduct tests to identify specific allergens, and doctors can provide a comprehensive evaluation to distinguish between allergies and other conditions.

Holiday-Caused Allergies

Holiday-caused allergies can arise from various festive elements, impacting your ability to enjoy the celebrations. Christmas trees, whether live or artificial, can trigger allergies. Live trees may harbor mold spores and pollen, leading to symptoms like sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and skin reactions. Artificial trees, especially if stored for an extended period, can accumulate dust and mold, causing similar allergic responses. To minimize reactions, individuals can hose down live trees before bringing them indoors and store artificial trees in a dry place.

Another source of holiday allergies is scented decorations, such as candles, potpourri, and air fresheners. These can irritate the respiratory system, causing symptoms like sneezing and headaches. Choosing unscented or hypoallergenic alternatives can help mitigate these issues.

Attic dust from stored decorations is another potential culprit. Dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander can accumulate on holiday items, leading to allergic rhinitis, coughing, and skin reactions. Regular cleaning of stored decorations, using sealed containers for storage, and wearing a mask during handling can reduce exposure.

Festive foods can also contribute to holiday allergies, particularly ingredients like nuts, dairy, and gluten found in many holiday treats. Allergic reactions may manifest as gastrointestinal issues, hives, swelling, or, in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Hosting gatherings with clear food labeling, inquiring about guests’ dietary restrictions, and offering allergen-free options can create a safer environment.

For individuals with known allergies, carrying necessary medications such as antihistamines or epinephrine is essential. Clear communication about allergies with hosts and guests can contribute to a safer and more enjoyable holiday experience.

Prevention and Management of Winter Allergies

There are many ways to fight winter allergies. The following are proven ways to reduce allergy suffering during winter.

  • A threat for winter allergy sufferers is dehydration, thanks to a person having to blow their nose often if a furnace is going. Charlotte residents tend to overheat their homes as they are not accustomed to chilly weather. Drink lots of water and eat water-rich fruits and vegetables. Hot drinks are very helpful as the steam that rises from your cup helps reduce nasal congestion.
  • Wash your bedding and/or your child’s bedding frequently. Pets love to lay on human bedding, but, they leave behind pet dander and dust mites. Wash bedding of allergy sufferers at least once per week – be sure to use hot water.
  • Avoid allergy triggers. One example of doing this is to stay indoors when gusting winds send moist leaves in your front or backyard twirling around.
  • Bathe often, which will wash allergy triggers from your face and hands. A nightly bath or shower goes a long way in keeping allergy symptoms in check.
  • When you or your child is suffering from allergy-related nasal congestion, try using a saline solution that is readily available at your drugstore without a prescription. Irrigating your nose with salt water helps keep your nasal passages clear.
  • Consider adding a moisturizer to your heating system. Putting more moisture into your home during dry winter spells helps with allergies – but don’t overdo it, as too much moisture fosters the growth of mold and mildew.
  • Take over-the-counter allergy medication. Today, there are many non-drowsy allergy medicines. If they don’t keep your or your child’s allergies at bay, it is time to see an allergist.

Another strategy is monitoring air quality and pollen counts to ensure you’re spending time outside when it is least harmful to your allergies. Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center keeps a daily pollen and mold counter as a reliable resource for all. Most weather apps also have a section to track air quality at different times of the day. These practices are responsible habits for enjoying and maximizing your time outdoors.

Treatment Options

Not all allergies can be reliably prevented. Severe allergies often require medication, treatment, or lifestyle adjustments to mitigate the symptoms and breathe easy. Some solutions that may work for you are:

  1. Over-the-Counter Remedies: OTC medications are readily available for managing mild to moderate winter allergy symptoms. Antihistamines like cetirizine, loratadine, or fexofenadine can help alleviate sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Decongestants, available in oral or nasal spray forms, can relieve nasal congestion. Nasal saline sprays can be effective in reducing nasal irritation. OTC eye drops may help alleviate itchy and watery eyes.
  2. Prescription Medications: In cases of more severe or persistent winter allergies, a healthcare professional may prescribe stronger medications. Nasal corticosteroids, such as fluticasone or mometasone, can be prescribed for nasal congestion and inflammation. Leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast, may be recommended for certain cases. For individuals with skin allergies or hives, oral antihistamines or corticosteroids may be prescribed.
  3. Allergy Shots and Immunotherapy: Allergy shots, also known as allergen immunotherapy, involve injecting small amounts of allergens under the skin to desensitize the immune system over time. This can be an effective long-term treatment for winter allergies.
  4. Lifestyle Adjustments and Home Remedies
    – Minimize exposure to indoor allergens by regularly cleaning and dusting the home, using allergen-proof bedding covers, and keeping pets out of bedrooms.
    – Use a dehumidifier to maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-50%, reducing the growth of mold and dust mites.
    – Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows and using air purifiers with HEPA filters to reduce indoor allergen concentrations.
    – Opt for hypoallergenic or allergen-free holiday decorations to avoid triggering allergic reactions.

It’s important to note that while OTC medications and lifestyle adjustments can be effective for managing mild to moderate symptoms, individuals with more severe or persistent allergies should consult a healthcare professional. A healthcare provider can assess the specific allergy triggers, recommend appropriate medications, and, if necessary, discuss the potential benefits of allergen immunotherapy.

When to See an Allergist

Identifying signs of winter allergies that warrant a consultation with an allergist is crucial for effective diagnosis and management. If individuals experience persistent and bothersome symptoms despite using over-the-counter medications or implementing lifestyle adjustments, seeking the expertise of an allergist is recommended. Common signs that may indicate the need for consultation include chronic nasal congestion, recurrent sneezing, persistent itchy or watery eyes, or skin reactions like hives or dermatitis. Additionally, if symptoms interfere with daily activities or sleep, or if there’s uncertainty about the specific allergens triggering the reactions, consulting an allergist becomes essential.

An allergist consultation offers several benefits for the diagnosis and management of winter allergies. Allergists are specialized physicians trained to identify and treat a wide range of allergic conditions. During a consultation, the allergist conducts a comprehensive medical history review and performs diagnostic tests to pinpoint specific allergens causing the symptoms. This can include skin prick tests or blood tests to detect allergen-specific antibodies. Thorough evaluation allows your allergist to tailor a personalized treatment plan.


For proactive allergy management this winter, contact Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center. We have multiple locations for you and your family’s convenience. Our team has provided outstanding allergy and asthma medical care since 1952. All our locations are manned by board-certified allergy doctors. Call us at 704-372-7900 for more information about winter allergies or to schedule an appointment. You may also use our online contact form.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are my allergies acting up in winter?

Due to greater time spent indoors, you’re likely coming into contact with greater volumes of mold, dander, and other potential allergens.

How do you get rid of winter allergies?

Routine cleaning of your home and bathing yourself and pets can help mitigate symptoms, but for treatment, over-the-counter or prescription medications based on your select symptoms may be necessary.

What is the best allergy medicine for winter?

This depends on the symptoms that you’re facing. Sneezing and a runny nose may be treated by antihistamines, while hives or allergic dermatitis may require corticosteroids. Discuss your options with your doctor to find out what’s right for you.

How do you know if it’s cold or allergies?

If the symptoms remain for a longer duration, it’s likely allergies. Colds also often have associated headaches and fatigue, while allergies do not.

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