Winter allergy symptoms are likely to be due to Mountain Cedar, our dominant winter allergen in Texas. Mountain Cedar (Juniperus ashei) is a type of drought-resistant evergreen Juniper tree found in Southwest Texas, southern Missouri and Northeastern Mexico.
Mountain Cedar pollen is a potent allergen that pollinates in the winter, from December through March. It can travel in the wind far and wide, all over Texas and beyond, and it is a major cause of cedar fever or hay fever. Symptoms include runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion and sneezing as well as itchy, watery eyes. Uncontrolled allergy symptoms can cause asthma flares and sinus infections. A person who is allergic to Mountain Cedar is probably also allergic to Juniper and Cypress trees as well.
While Mountain Cedar allergy is often the culprit behind nasal congestion and runny noses in the winter, there are other conditions that can cause allergy-like symptoms. These include the common cold, nonallergic rhinitis, indoor and other outdoor allergens, Christmas tree allergy and cold urticaria.
The Common Cold
The common cold can cause allergy-like symptoms such as stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat and nasal congestion. But the common cold does not usually cause eye allergy symptoms and it may present with a fever, unlike allergies.
Vasomotor rhinitis or non-allergic rhinitis can look a lot like allergies, with all the classic nasal symptoms, however, unlike an allergy, it does not involve the immune system. Also, it usually does not cause eye symptoms. Allergy testing is usually negative. Vasomotor rhinitis may be triggered by temperature changes such as going from warm to cold weather, windy weather, changes in humidity, strong odors, perfumes and smoke.
Indoor and Outdoor Allergies
The cold weather results in everyone spending more time indoors with forced-air heating systems that circulate airborne dust and pollen. Indoor allergens such as molds, dust mites and animal dander can contribute to worsening of allergies and asthma during the winter when there is less ventilation.
Molds can be present indoors and outdoors and can cause allergy symptoms. Outdoor molds thrive on dead vegetation such as piles of leaves and are not killed by winter frosts. In colder climates molds can be found in the outdoor air starting in late winter to early spring, especially if it rains. Disturbances to outdoor mold sources, such as raking a pile of leaves, can disperse mold spores throughout the air, leading to varying levels of mold inhalation.
Christmas Tree Allergies
For some people, being around a fresh pine tree indoors during the holidays seems to make their allergies and asthma get worse. It’s not their imagination. Allergy symptoms may result from pollen, mold spores, and strong odors emitted from the tree by substances called terpenes which give the trees their natural scent. Consider an artificial Christmas tree. Live ones can have chemicals and molds on them. Buy glass or plastic ornaments rather than fabric, which can collect dust, and wipe the dust off the ornaments before you hang them.
If you get hives in the winter time or after exposure to cold weather, cold food, cold drinks or after swimming in cold water, you may have Cold Urticaria. Cold Urticaria is a form of physical urticaria that is characterized by the development of hives and swelling within minutes of cold exposure. It occurs more commonly in children and symptoms can range from a few hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis, which is rare.
Consult an Allergist
If you are experiencing winter allergy symptoms, consult one of our Board Certified Allergists at North Texas Allergy & Asthma Center. We can help you find out what is causing your symptoms and give you expert advice on how to get a handle on your symptoms and feel better.
ROSHNI FOSTER, MD, PhD
Board Certified Allergist