You survived ragweed season. You deserve the allergy relief that cold temperatures will bring. But how cold does it have to get before the pollens die off and you can breathe easily?
Here’s a quick look at freeze thresholds:
- Light freeze: 32° to 29° F
- Moderate freeze: 25° to 28° F
- Severe freeze: 24° F and below
A light freeze will kill off the most tender plants, but hearty pollen-producers won’t go down that easily. It will take a moderate freeze of 25° to 28° F that lasts for several hours to kill off the preponderance of allergenic plants and give your immune system a break.
That’s the good news—if you live in a cold climate. If you live in a temperate climate where you never get to that moderate freeze threshold, pollens may continue to haunt you all year round. For example, in the Southwest, Western juniper, mountain cedar, and hickory trees can pollinate through most of the winter.
And even the coldest of places don’t promise the same degree of allergy relief in winter that they used to. Climate change is prolonging summer and making winters milder. If you look at climate records from the early 1900s, you can see that winters in cold states such as Alaska and Maine are now about 5 degrees warmer than they were then.
Other research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that pollen seasons have lengthened by 20 days in the U.S. since 1990 and contain 21% more pollen.
Another challenge is that pollens aren’t the only source of winter allergies. Other allergens can take the baton after winter has killed the worst of the pollens. These allergens include:
- Dust: As you spend more time indoors during winter, you could increase your exposure to dust mites. These microscopic arachnids are everywhere in your home. They feed on dead skin cells and love to hang out in bedrooms where they can feast on the dead skin that accumulates in bedding. Their body parts and secretions contain proteins that trigger allergies.
- Pet dander/secretions: If you’re inside more often during the cold months, you’ll have more contact with your pet’s dander. While a lot of people think that animal hair is the catalyst for allergic reactions, it’s really pet dander, which is the dead skin cells that animals shed. The dander often gets caught in the pet’s hair, which is why animals with more hair may be more allergenic. Proteins found in pets’ saliva, urine, and sweat can also activate allergies.
- Mold: If you look outdoors in winter, you’ll likely see decaying leaves from fall foliage. These leaves and other yard waste, such as decaying wood, provide a welcome home for mold and mildew, which thrive in the dark, moist environment of nature’s debris. Mold can also be a problem in humidity-prone areas of your home, such as bathrooms. You’re less likely to open windows in winter, for fear of the cold air outside, but the combination of moist air and low ventilation can lead to mold that triggers respiratory allergies inside your home.
Preventing Winter Allergies
To help combat dust allergies, cover your mattress and pillows in allergen-proof bed covers to keep the dust mites at bay. Wash your bedding weekly. Cut down clutter and consider replacing drapes with shutters and carpet with alternatives like wood or tile flooring. Use high efficiency filters for your HVAC system. Vacuum frequently and dust using a damp rag to collect particles, rather than a duster that sends those particles billowing into the air.
Combat mold by running a dehumidifier. This will help with dust mites, too, which prefer moist environments. Make sure to keep high-humidity rooms ventilated. Remove yard waste that could facilitate mold growth.
As for your pets, bathe them weekly and create “allergy free” zones (such as your bedroom) that are off limits to pets so you have a place to go that is not contaminated by pet dander.
If you’re tired of not achieving full allergy relief—even in winter—talk to a doctor specializing in sublingual immunotherapy. It’s the perfect solution for people who want the benefits of allergy immunotherapy without allergy shots.
Your doctor can order an allergy test kit to help you know what allergens are triggering your symptoms, then prescribe sublingual immunotherapy if appropriate. These daily, under-the-tongue drops are safer than shots so they can be taken at home rather than at the doctor’s office.
Sublingual allergy drops can help train your body to stop overreacting to allergens in ways that trigger symptoms. They can desensitize you to pollens as well as to mold, dust and pet dander. And if you have food allergies, sublingual immunotherapy food allergy treatment can help you tolerate more of the foods that you love without fear of reactions.