What Causes Sinus Problems in Winter?

October 15, 2018

6 minutes

The fall decorations are out, and the holidays are just around the corner. It’s officially that time of the year when our patients start asking, “What causes sinus problems in winter” and “Can weather affect your sinuses.” Already, people are getting their flu shots, and they’re on the lookout for sinus infection symptoms.

Texans know that our weather can turn on a dime, and they like to be prepared. Because as much as we enjoy the occasional break from the heat, winter sinus problems (including sinusitis) can sometimes make the holiday season an uncomfortable one.

As we enter this period of frequent weather transitions, take a moment to learn what causes sinus problems in winter. Doing so can help you get through this winter season with fewer tissues and bottles of nasal spray.

How does cold weather affect the sinuses?

Viruses: colds and the flu

We know that we’re more likely to get sick in the winter; therefore, many people assume that the cold weather is what causes sinus problems in winter. However, cold weather itself does not make you sick. You can blame germs for that (more specifically, the rhinovirus for the cold and the influenza virus for the flu).

What the cold can do is help foster the environmental conditions these viruses need to thrive. Here are some of the ways this happens:

  • According to the NIH, the flu virus travels easier through the dry outdoor air (created by the cold) and the dry indoor air (created by heating)
  • When it’s at or around freezing, cold weather can harden the flu virus’ outer coating, allowing it to survive longer before being transmitted
  • Cold weather drives people indoors for longer periods of time (where you’re more likely to share germs)
  • Cold weather can slow down your immune system, especially if your feet are regularly cold

If you suffer from colds on a regular basis, it could be what causes your recurrent sinus infections. For more information on what happens when your sinuses are regularly blocked with acute or recurrent sinus infections, check out our blogs on: “Sinus infection tooth pain relief” and “Is acute sinusitis contagious?”


Humans aren’t the only ones who set up camp inside for the winter. Our pets do, too. While it seems wrong to blame your dog or cat for part of what causes sinus problems in winter, pet dander can build up, causing even those without allergies to have a reaction. Changing out the air filter and regular cleaning during winter months can significantly reduce the sniffles and sneezes.  

Air Quality

We’ve already mentioned that dry air can be behind what causes sinus problems in winter. Unfortunately, humid air might be the culprit, as well. (We know. You can’t win, can you?) Luckily, once you figure out how the air quality is affecting your sinuses, there are certain things you can do to adjust your environment so your sinuses (and you) can be happy again.

Dry air

Cold weather and wind make the air dry outside, and the heater and the fireplace make the air dry inside. Dry air creates difficulties for the cilia and mucus lining in your nose, which makes it harder for you to get rid of buildup in your nose. Using a humidifier and replacing your air filter can help you fight these issues.

Humid air  

Can humidity cause sinus problems, too? It sure can. As many Houstonians learned post-Harvey in 2017, too much humidity can be just as bad as too little. In the winter months, an increase in humidity can cause pressure to fluctuate. So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “What causes sinus headaches in winter,” now you know that a weather related sinus headaches may be to blame.


Unfortunately, those pumpkin spice candles may also be behind what causes your sinus problems in winter. When overused, candles and air fresheners can irritate your nasal passages, and this will only worsen if your home is locked up tight against the cold.


Just like many people don’t think about fragrances being what causes sinus problems in winter, food also tends to fly under the sinus radar. However, certain foods and drinks (including alcohol, dairy, and sugar) have all been known to cause diet-related inflammation, even when they aren’t being consumed in the holiday spirit.

If you consume more of these foods over the holidays and notice that your body isn’t reacting well, you may need to take a break from this festive grub.

Dust, mold, & seasonal allergies

You can’t talk about what causes sinus problems in winter without mentioning dust, mold, and seasonal allergies.

Come winter time, many of us take out winter bedding, lay blankets and throws on the back of couches and chairs, and unfurl rugs to keep our feet off the cold tile and hardwood floors. We may also pull out holiday decorations, such as Christmas trees, ornaments, and wreaths.

While it’s fun to deck the halls with bells of holly, you may also be decking them with dust, which can ultimately aggravate your sinuses. If possible, wash, clean, and vacuum frequently as you decorate for the new season.

And keep in mind, if your family picks up a real Christmas tree, you should understand that these trees often have a natural mold that has been known to cause sinus issues. To make the situation worse, some guests or members of your family may already be allergic to tree pollen in general.

Finally … ‘tis the season for ragweed and cedar pollen. If you have allergies to these plants, it’s a smart move to proactively visit your sinus doctor to see what allergy treatments will best suit your needs.

Cold weather & sinus problems don’t have to come hand-in-hand  

Now that you know what causes sinus problems in winter, it’s time to do something about it. Many people struggle with more than one of these causes for months at a time and wind up having annual bouts of chronic sinusitis.

Is an untreated sinus infection dangerous? It can be. But even if you’ve tried all the OTC options and home remedies out there, hope still exists.

Balloon sinuplasty is a non-invasive, in-office procedure that offers sinus patients long-term relief from their sinus symptoms and problems. This particular procedure requires little-to-no recovery time, can be completed in less than 21 minutes, and does not involve the cutting of tissue or bone.

Dr. Kaplan of Kaplan Sinus Relief is known as one of the top providers of balloon sinuplasty in Houston. He and his staff are dedicated to giving their patients the sinus relief they deserve. So if you’re ready to spend this winter with family and friends (and not holed up with sinus problems) call Kaplan Sinus Relief at 713-591-8941 to schedule a consultation today.

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