Ask an Allergist: Can I have seasonal allergies in the winter?

HEDBERG color logo 2017 200I’m used to dealing with allergy symptoms in the spring and fall, but why am I still having trouble with them in the winter? Isn’t all the pollen gone? Do rapid temperature fluctuations (like unseasonably warm days in winter) cause allergy symptoms to come back?   

Response by Dr. Matt C Bell, MD – Board Certified Allergist of Hedberg Allergy & Asthma Center

The easiest answer to this question, and the most likely, is that what you’re dealing with is not allergy-related at all. While there are some allergens that persist through the winter (dog, cat, dust mite, and cockroach, for example), winter should be a time when we have a bit of a respite from outdoor allergies.

tissue boxWe will occasionally see some outdoor allergens: outdoor mold levels spike during unseasonably warm, windy days and pollen from cedar trees peaks in the wintertime. Outside of those things, however, winter is typically a time of relief for those suffering from classic spring/fall pollen allergies.

The most likely culprit for the nasal congestion and cough that present this time of year is a viral upper respiratory infection. While viruses can (and do) spread any time of the year, they spread more readily in winter. Two key factors influence this: 1) Cold air causes constriction of blood vessels in the nose leading to slower response from immune cells to the site of initial infection;  2) Drier air in the winter time causes viruses suspended in water vapor (from a cough or sneeze) to stay airborne longer, potentially infecting more people.

The absence of sneezing and itchy eyes can help differentiate a viral respiratory infection, or cold, from symptoms caused by allergies. While there are no great treatments for viral respiratory infections, it may be worthwhile to see your primary care doctor if symptoms persist longer than 10-14 days. If your symptoms do include classic allergy signs like sneezing or itchy nose/eyes, it may be worthwhile to see an allergist as there are effective treatments for allergy-induced nasal symptoms.

Dr. BellDr. Matt C. Bell is one of the Board Certified Allergists practicing at Hedberg Allergy & Asthma Center, with locations in Rogers and Fayetteville. The clinic diagnoses and treats asthma, allergic rhinitis and other diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract, drug and insect hypersensitivity, latex allergy, hives, allergic skin disease, recurrent infections and congenital immunologic deficiencies. Hedberg Allergy & Asthma Center was ranked No. 1 in the category of “Best Allergy Clinic” in the most recent Mom-Approved Awards, as voted by mothers in Northwest Arkansas. Click here to visit the clinic’s website or call 479-464-8887 (Rogers) or 479-301-8887 (Fayetteville) for more info.