Allergic to the Cold

Can you have an allergic reaction to the cold weather? Find out the symptoms and how to prevent it from occurring.

Twenty percent of Americans suffer from allergies, which are often inherited. Chances are, you’re allergic to substances you don’t even know about, but how can you tell? With more than 1,000 allergens triggering reactions, is there any relief in sight? Allergen specialist Dr. Warner Carr explains that the key to combating allergies is proper diagnosis.

Anatomy of an Allergy

An allergy is an abnormal response of an individual’s immune system to a usually harmless substance in the environment, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, etc. If the substance causes a reaction, then it is deemed an allergen to that individual. Once it comes into contact with the body, the allergen sets off a chain of events, triggering the immune system to go into overdrive and produce an abundance of histamine, which attaches to receptors in blood vessels, causing them to enlarge.

Like a domino effect, the enlarged vessels create the redness, swelling, itching and changes in secretions that cause discomfort and irritation; however, when the histamine receptors are blocked with an antihistamine, these symptoms subside. Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, Clarinex and Allegra are all antihistamines.

• Learn about food allergies.

Finding the SourceSkin testing can be done with an allergen specialist to uncover the source of your allergic reaction. It is often performed by applying an allergen -- such as mold, pollen, grasses, animal secretions and food -- to your skin, then scratching the skin to allow exposure and evaluating the skin's reaction. Dr. Carr emphasizes that the scratch test is far superior to a blood test, because it checks the entire biological system and the results are immediate. “And it gives our patients a visual, which is really helpful,” he adds. 

• Allergist Dr. Otto Liao discusses the types of allergy testing that can be done to determine what someone is allergic to.

Allergy 411

Learn how to tell the difference between an allergy and a cold and which medications are best for each. 

Learn which ointments can soothe common skin irritations.

Allergy Rx

Environmental Control

• Remove clutter, especially from the bedroom  

• Wash your hair before you go to bed

• Wash bed sheets in hot water at least once a week

• Get dust covers for the pillows and the mattress

• Limit the number of household plants

• Vacuum at least once a week

• Dust mites love stuffed animals almost as much as your kids do, so put them in the freezer once a week reduce the number of mites 


Medicines will treat the symptoms of allergies but won’t cure them. Dr. Carr encourages the use of targeted therapy, which he defines as topical antihistamines and nasal sprays rather than oral antihistamines. The problem with oral antihistamines is that when taken as a pill, they affect the entire body instead of just the intended areas, and they often cause unnecessary sedation. Steroids are another option, but they’re powerful drugs and have side effects if taken over a long period of time.

Allergy Symptoms

• Itchy, watery eyes

• Itchy throat

• Runny nose

• Cough

Common Allergens

• Mold

• Pollen

• Grasses and weeds

• Animal dander, urine and saliva

• Dust mites

• Cockroaches

• Milk

• Eggs

• Nuts

• Wheat

• Tomatoes

• Avocados

Learn how to keep your home allergen-free.