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Winter allergies

Sniffling and sneezing is common during the winter months, yet it’s not always due to colds and flu. Although people with pollen allergies may find a bit of a reprieve when the weather cools, those with other allergy triggers - such as mould and house dust mites - can be just as miserable in winter as they are in the spring and summer.

Here are some common causes of winter allergies, and a few tips for managing your symptoms.

What causes winter allergies?

Dust, mould spores, and insect parts that have settled over the summer can get into your nose, and if you're allergic, can trigger a reaction.

During an allergic response, the immune system goes into overdrive when it comes into contact with pollen, mould, and other allergens. It releases a chemical called histamine, which triggers the watery eyes, runny nose, and other tell-tale symptoms of an allergy attack.

Because people tend to spend more time inside during the winter months, indoor allergens become a bigger problem. Some common indoor allergens are:

  • House dust mites. These microscopic bugs flourish in mattresses and bedding. When their droppings and remains become airborne, they can cause allergy symptoms in people who are sensitive to them.
  • Mould. This fungus thrives in damp, humid areas such as basements, cellars and bathrooms. When its spores get into the air, they can trigger allergy symptoms. Although many people believe they are allergic to Christmas trees, it's actually not the trees, but the mould that can collect on them that is more likely to cause allergy symptoms.
  • Animals. They may be our best friends, but pets can become worst enemies to anyone who is allergic to them. Contrary to popular belief, most people are not allergic to animal fur, but rather to a protein found in the dead skin flakes (dander), saliva, and urine. These proteins can get inhaled into the nose and mouth and cause a reaction.
  • Perfumes. Getting dressed up for parties often means spraying on perfume and cologne, which can worsen breathing symptoms and lead to skin reactions in some people with allergies and asthma. Lotions, hairspray, air fresheners, and potpourri can also elicit reactions in people with fragrance allergies.

During the festive season when people are often travelling and meals are prepared by someone else, food allergies can also be a big issue. The biggest food allergy triggers are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts and tree nuts (such as walnuts and hazelnuts)
  • Shellfish
  • Soya
  • Wheat
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