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Winter allergies

What causes winter allergies?

Mould spores and house dust mites are common triggers of allergy symptoms in the winter.

Different people with allergies have different triggers.

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

We spend more time inside during the winter, so indoor allergens can be more of a 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 some people.

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. Dander, saliva and urine is usually the problem, not fur.

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.

Food 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 most common food allergy triggers are:

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

What are the symptoms of winter allergies?

Allergy symptoms caused by house dust mite, pollen or mould include:

  • Coughing
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Itchy eyes and nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes

Winter allergy symptoms can be mistaken for a cold. Typically, you won’t have a cold for more than 10 days. Allergies, on the other hand last as long as the allergens causing them are present. Also flu, and sometimes colds, are usually accompanied by a fever as well as aches and pains - symptoms that don't usually occur with allergies.

Mould and house dust mites can also trigger asthma, causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Being outside during the winter months, especially during exercise, can also make asthma symptoms worse.

Food allergies can cause hives, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and coughing. Severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, can cause the lips, tongue, or throat to swell up and make breathing difficult.

How are winter allergies diagnosed?

If your upper respiratory symptoms have lingered for more than a month, seek medical advice. Your doctor may offer advice about reducing allergen exposure and treatments that can be used to control allergies.

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