Could Your Winter Cold Actually Just Be Winter Allergies?

Did you know that allergies can last year-round. Winter allergies can flare up hard, but many people aren’t aware they have them because they think they have a common cold. How can you tell the difference? Before you make a trip to the hospital for an allergy test, here’s how you can tell colds and winter allergies apart and how to relieve your symptoms.

How Common Are Winter Allergies?

More than 16 million people in the United States suffer from winter allergies, according to Mayo Clinic. Not only that, but more than 40 million people are allergy-prone, according to WebMD. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergies are the sixth overall cause of chronic illness and create over $18 billion in annual costs in the United States. And if you don’t know how to identify winter allergies, you may be incurring those costs at urgent care centers and ERs this season. Nearly 12,000 patients on average were reported being seen at urgent care centers in the 2015 fiscal year. This averages to about 3 visits per hour or 32 total visits per day of patients seeking treatment for various medical conditions. These treatment facilities can be sometimes overwhelmed with patients and may not be able to provide the best treatment quickly enough for your situation. If you can figure out for yourself whether or not you have a cold or an allergy, you can avoid being one of these patients at the hospital or urgent care center.

How Are Winter Allergies Different from Colds?

Colds are caused by a virus. There are over 200 subtypes of viruses that can create a cold by transmission through coughing and sneezing. These viruses work their way into the cells of your nose, lungs, and throat and trigger your immune system to react. You can develop a cold within one to three days after coming into contact with the virus. You can reduce your risk of catching a cold through frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with the virus whenever possible. The risk for catching a cold increases if you travel frequently or relocate often and come into contact with many different people. However, if your colds frequently recur over and over around the same time period, you may want to consider that it may be a winter allergy instead.

What Causes Winter Allergies?

First, winter allergies differ from colds in that they are not created by a virus and they are not contagious. Rather, allergies are an immune system overreaction to indoor substances such as mold, dry air, pet dander, and dust mites. These are different from allergies that occur in warmer seasons. In the spring, summer, and fall, pollen allergies from grasses and mature hardwood trees are among the most common complaints. During the holidays, your fresh cut tree may even trigger an allergic response. Winter allergies can have similar symptoms to the common cold, but they last a lot longer. Fortunately, there are a few key differences you can look out for. One telltale sign of allergies is the absence of aches or chills. If your mucus comes out clear, that is another sign it could be an allergy. If your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it’s a good sign you may be suffering from winter allergies. It’s still important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, though.

Winter Allergies In Children

Children frequently get colds, so parents rarely question whether or not their child’s symptoms could be an allergic reaction. Allergies can typically show up in children between 4-6 years of age or older. Genetics can be a major factor in the development of allergies in children. If one parent has an allergy, there’s a 1 in 3 chance the child will also develop an allergy and when both parents have allergies, that number increases to a 7 in 10 chance. How can parents tell if their child is sick from a cold or an allergy?

Potential winter allergies can be spotted in children with what is commonly referred to as the “allergic salute.” Children with allergies will typically rub their noses frequently with an upward motion to relieve itching. This can create a small indent on the bridge of the nose. If you see your child exhibiting this behavior, you may want to consider taking them for an allergy test. But be mindful — if you go to an urgent care about winter allergies, make sure you look at Google or Facebook reviews first. If someone has left a one-star review, that particular location might not be best. It’s important to get reliable care for your children.

Winter Allergy Treatment Tips

There are several things you can do to relieve your winter allergy symptoms. Consider using a humidifier set no higher than 50% to balance out the dry air inside your home and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Use a HEPA filter to clean the air from dust particle contaminants. Vacuum your furniture, curtains, and floors while wearing a face mask on a frequent basis. Throw out any carpeting, wallpaper, or shower curtains that are moldy and wash sinks and showers with a solution of detergent and 5% bleach. Even though almost 40 million Americans use tooth whiteners, however, you’ll have to use a different kind of bleach to clean your home. Give your pet a bath once a week to reduce pet dander. Use hypoallergenic bed sheets and pillowcases and wash them with warm water on a weekly basis.

Winter Allergy Diagnostic Tests

If you want to find out whether your symptoms are caused by a cold or winter allergies, you can have a test done at the hospital or through an allergist recommended by your doctor or hospital. This allergy test will help you determine what exactly you may be triggering your allergic reactions to help you better treat your symptoms. Allergy and immunology specialists can run blood, patch, and skin tests to deduce your allergy triggers. Once you know what these triggers are, you’ll be better equipped to avoid them.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

You can treat winter allergy symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. There are a few different options to choose from, depending on what symptoms you have. You can use antihistamines to treat symptoms such as runny nose, itching, and sneezing. Antihistamines work by blocking inflammation and swelling from occurring, which can make your nose uncomfortably stuffy and give you a headache. These medications can cause drowsiness, so check for a non-drowsy formula or take a dose prior to falling asleep at night. And while nasal decongestants can help you breathe easier, you shouldn’t use them for more than three consecutive days.

Make sure to thoroughly read the Drug Facts label on any medication prior to taking it. It’s recommended that you take medications that only treat your specific symptoms. Avoid taking more than one medication at a time, especially those that contain the same active ingredients. When you’re treating allergy symptoms with OTC medication, make sure to follow all directions carefully and do not take more than the recommended dose. Do not take any medication for a prolonged period of time.

Trying to determine whether you have winter allergies or a cold can be a bit tricky, but hopefully, these tips will help you out. If your symptoms persist for a long period of time or keep recurring, you may want to consider visiting your doctor for an allergy test.

Love & light,


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Kathy Cano-Murillo

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