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The winter season usually brings with it cold-weather scents like the crisp smell of pine, the soft smell of cinnamon, and the warm smell of a campfire, to name a few. Unfortunately, this is the season where many suffer from stuffy noses and sinus issues that hinder their ability to take in these beautiful aromas.

If you tend to develop nasal issues throughout the colder months, you could find yourself asking, “Do I keep catching a cold, or is this a winter allergy?”

Many times, symptoms of the common cold and allergy symptoms present similarly, causing patients to confuse one over the other. Common symptoms of a cold and winter allergies include:

Symptoms of a cold:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Throat soreness
  • Excessive coughing
  • General aches or pains
  • Fever
  • Excessive eye watering

Symptoms of winter allergies:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Throat irritation
  • Eye irritation
  • Excessive coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

With the seven symptoms featured on each list, three are identical (sneezing, coughing, and runny nose), two are very similar (eye watering vs. irritation and throat soreness vs. irritation), and the remaining two are quite different (general aches or pains and fever vs. wheezing and chest tightness).

Because enough of the symptoms are so similar, patients who tend to develop a cold every time the temperatures drop are forced to wonder if their ailment is a temporary cold or a season-long allergy. However, there are distinct differences between the two.

Woman looking at affected with mold walls in room

The Common Cold Is a Short-Lived, Viral Issue

All colds are caused by viruses. In fact, did you know there are more than 200 viruses that are lumped together in the “common cold” category? Children and adults can catch these viruses at any point in the year, but people experience an increased risk of catching a cold during the fall and winter months. Reasons for this can include:

  • People are more likely to gather indoors during the winter, increasing our exposure to anyone carrying a virus.
  • Rhinoviruses, the most common cold-causing viruses, tend to thrive in colder weather.
  • Cold, dry weather affects our bodies in such a way that our immune systems have a more challenging time fighting off infections.

No matter why common colds are much more prevalent in the winter, the fact remains that the cold is a viral problem, and symptoms should only last five to seven days.

Winter Allergies Are a Season-Long Issue

If you suffer from winter allergies, so long as you are exposed to your trigger, you’re going to experience symptoms. Unfortunately, unlike a cold, allergies do not usually clear up on their own after a few days, especially when the cause of your allergies is never addressed.

While we call them winter allergies, they are actually year-round indoor allergies; it’s just that patients increase their exposure to their indoor triggers during the colder months. Winter or indoor allergies can arise due to several triggers, the most common three being:

Pet Dander

Patients with a pet dander allergy are allergic to a protein found in the skin, saliva, and urine that a pet releases throughout the day and night. Many believe they are allergic to the animal’s fur, but really, it’s the protein that can be found attached to the fur once the animal sheds it off.

Cats are the pets that people are most often allergic to, but people can be allergic to any animal, including dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, or any other pet that sheds dander.

While pet allergy patients tend to avoid having indoor pets, they may allow outside pets to stay indoors during the winter, increasing their exposure to their trigger. Or, allergy patients are likely to visit other houses for the holidays where the owners allow pets inside, again making them susceptible to developing allergy symptoms.

Dust Mites

Dust mites are microscopic creatures found in any house anywhere throughout the country, and they come in the hundreds of thousands. In fact, according to the CDC, there is an average of 100,000 dust mites per every square foot of carpet in your home, although they also live in your bedding, mattress, couch, chairs, and any other upholstered item in your home. Dust mites feed on the skin cells you shed, so anywhere you most often congregate indoors, you can expect dust mites to be with you.

The reason people with a dust mite allergy may notice an uptick in symptoms throughout the winter season is because the colder it gets, the more bedding we tend to use. Extra blankets and sheets create extra places for these little arachnids to thrive. Through diligent cleaning methods—vacuuming, washing sheets and bedding, and dusting regularly—and by using effective mattress covers, you can help mitigate your dust mite allergies and experience fewer symptoms throughout the colder months.


Indoor mold, just like pet dander and dust mites, is a year-long issue that can affect your home anytime. The spores released from the mold growing indoors are what trigger an allergy patient’s reactions, and mold tends to grow in areas with high levels of moisture, most commonly in:

  • Attics
  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Crawlspaces
  • Kitchens
  • Utility closets

Because we are inside so much more during the winter, patients with a mold allergy may experience symptoms more frequently, especially if there is an untreated mold issue in the home they live in or are visiting.

Winter or indoor allergies can be frustrating to deal with throughout the colder months. Find relief with help from Langford Allergy.

Dr. Langford and our team are well-versed in the allergy triggers that tend to wreak havoc in fall and winter. If you suspect you have allergies, we can perform thorough testing to determine your exact triggers and can create an effective treatment plan to help you find relief from your symptoms all season long. Schedule your appointment today by calling 478-787-4728.

Related articles:

Can Cold Weather Cause Allergies?

3 Signs You May Have a Mold Allergy

What Can I Do for My Pet Dander Allergy?