Find out the best ways to stop seasonal allergy symptoms before they start.
From late August until the first hard frost, about 15% to 25% of people find themselves battling fall allergies. Find out which allergens to watch for, tips to remove or avoid them, and ways to treat symptoms.
What are allergies?
Allergies are among the most common chronic conditions, and symptoms are the result of an immune reaction. Your immune system is designed to protect your body against invading organisms that can make you sick. But when you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes an allergen — normally a harmless substance — for an invader, bringing on symptoms such as sneezing, a hoarse or sore throat, itchy eyes, and a watery nasal discharge.
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Common Fall Allergens
People can experience allergy symptoms all year long, but certain allergens strike at different times. "[Fall] allergies are due in a large part to ragweed and other similar weed pollens,” says Mark Schecker, MD, allergist at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Ragweed, a leading cause of fall allergy symptoms, is transported by wind, meaning that every breath you take can trigger a reaction. Ragweed reaches its peak in the middle of September, causing allergic rhinitis, a seasonal reaction to pollen that affects nearly 23 million Americans. There are 17 types of ragweed that can start the itchy eyes and sneezes.
Other less common weeds that can set off symptoms include goldenrod, curly dock, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, sheep sorrel, and sagebrush.
Mold is a type of fungi whose spores spread through the air. Mold is an indoor and outdoor allergen, commonly found in places like soil, decaying leaves, bathrooms, garbage cans, and air vents — any place that provides them with food, air, the right temperature, and water to grow. While mold can be found in your home and cause allergy symptoms all year long, outdoor mold spores are especially abundant during the fall season, where mold spores set up shop in piles of leaves, foliage-stuffed gutters, and other damp areas. Mold is often regarded as a warm-weather allergen, but in some places, mold spores don’t reach their peak until October. Symptoms of a mold allergy include nasal congestion, irritated eyes, and coughing.
Knowing what triggers to avoid is key to reducing allergy symptoms. During the fall, weed pollen counts are highest in the mornings, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. If you can, avoid spending extended periods of time outside during these hours. Keep car and house windows shut to keep pollen from blowing in. And beware pollen following you indoors: “Pollen sticks to your hair, skin, and clothes, and that may be a hidden source of pollen you may not be aware of,” Dr. Schecker says. “If you’re outdoors for long periods of time consider changing clothes or even showering as soon as you come inside.”
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To avoid outdoor mold allergens, leave doors and windows closed, check mold counts, and remain inside with the air conditioner on when counts are high. If possible, leave the leaf raking and gutter cleaning to someone else. Inside, regularly clean the warm, damp places that mold loves to call home. Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels at home low.
Over the counter medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroids are one way to start treating symptoms. If you don’t get enough relief, contact your healthcare provider, who can prescribe a stronger medication. “You might have to combine two or even three medicines to get the relief you’re looking for,” Schecker says.
If you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, consult your healthcare provider before symptoms arise. “There is no cure for allergies, but allergy shots treat the underlying cause,” he says. “After we determine what you’re allergic to by giving you a test, we can create a specific vaccine and give appropriate shots.”