You’re stuffy and congested, your eyes are watering and your nose is running… ah, it must be autumn! As beautiful as fall can be, it can also be agonizing if you’re prone to seasonal allergies.
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Allergist Mark Aronica, MD, talks fall allergies, including what causes them and how to handle them.
What causes fall allergies?
Fall allergies go under the category of allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, which happens when your body’s immune system reacts to an inhaled pollen in the air. It can cause:
- Itchy eyes.
- Runny nose.
- Post-nasal drip (that feeling of constantly needing to clear your throat of mucus).
Allergic rhinitis encompasses seasonal allergies — those that arrive with the onset of a particular season — as well as allergies you have all year round, known as perennial allergies.
“Perennial allergens are year-round and include people who are sensitive to animal danders (like cats and dogs), as well as dust mites, cockroaches and molds, which are also considered to be year-round allergens,” Dr. Aronica explains. “Seasonal allergens include the spring and fall pollens — and spring allergens also include trees and grasses.”
How common are fall allergies?
An estimated 15% to 30% of the U.S. population is thought to have allergic rhinitis. You’re more likely to have fall allergies if you have:
“All people are different, but often people with allergies are sensitive to multiple allergens — spring, fall and perennial,” Dr. Aronica says. “Sometimes, though, we do see patients with only a few sensitivities or with symptoms only in one of the seasons.”
The most common fall allergies
It’s such a pretty season, but you can’t seem to stop sneezing. So what is it that you’re actually allergic to?
“Fall allergens are generally weeds,” Dr. Aronica says. He breaks down some of the most common allergens during this time of year.
The most common fall allergen is ragweed, a member of the daisy family that starts to bloom in North America in late August and lives through autumn.
Ragweed’s flowers produce significant amounts of pollen, which makes it an especially potent allergen. A single ragweed plant can release up to a billion grains of pollen!
Other seasonal weeds
Ragweed may be the primary culprit of fall allergies, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Other weeds associated with allergic rhinitis include:
- Russian thistle.
How to cope with fall allergies
The best way to try to prevent allergy issues is to try to stay away from the things you’re allergic to. “The mainstay of therapy is avoidance,” Dr. Aronica says.
But that can be difficult when you’re allergic to pollen, which blows in the crisp autumn breeze and settles on everything in its path. He explains how to fight fall allergies.
You don’t have to lock yourself indoors and skip the season, but some preventative measures can help lessen the likelihood of itchy eyes and a runny nose.
Close your windows
Open windows welcome pollen. In the fall, when your allergies are high, use your home’s air conditioner or heat instead, if possible (depending on the temperature outside).
Wash your hands and face
Who doesn’t love autumnal activities like apple-picking, hiking trick-or-treating? Fun as they are, though, they all expose you to pollen.
After you’ve spent time outdoors, take care to wash your hands and face when you return indoors, which will help get rid of lingering pollen.
Change your clothes
It’s not just your skin: Pollen even settles on your clothes! In addition to washing yourself off, you may consider changing into an outfit untainted by pollen, which will keep the sneezy stuff further from you.
Somebody’s got to mow the lawn — but if at all possible, avoid outdoor chores that kick up allergens, like pulling up weeds and raking leaves.
Wear a mask
The pandemic isn’t the only reason to wear a face mask! Covering your mouth and nose with a mask can also keep pollen from making contact.
Home remedies for fall allergies
Though the steps above will help you come into contact with less pollen, it’s just about impossible to fully avoid pollen. If you’re still sneezy, get an assist from science and hit up a drugstore or pharmacy to try an over-the-counter medication designed to relieve your allergy symptoms.
“Many allergy medications are safe and now available over the counter, including nasal steroid sprays like fluticasone and triamcinolone, and the long-acting, non-sedating antihistamines such as loratadine and cetirizine,” Dr. Aronica says. “These medications are generally very good at managing most allergies.”
Take your allergy medicine before your allergies get bad, especially on days predicted to have high pollen counts. Local news channels and online weather websites offer pollen forecasts that can help you stay up to date.
When to see a doctor
If you’re doing everything you can but still can’t kick the sniffles and sneezes, it may be time to see an allergy specialist for extra help.
“We can do a skin test to identify a patient’s specific allergens and to determine if there are additional pollens or if they have a perennial allergy,” Dr. Aronica says. “If you might be interested in allergy shots, that is only something an allergist can provide.”
Allergy shots — also called allergen immunotherapy or subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) — are a way to slowly decrease your sensitivity to certain allergens, which can greatly reduce your symptoms. But they’re typically a long-term therapy used only after you’ve tried everything else.
And as Dr. Aronica points out, not all runny noses are due to allergies. A skin test will also show whether you are indeed experiencing allergies. If not, you’ll know to seek continued medical input to figure out what’s causing your symptoms.
Can you “recover” from allergies?
Allergy symptoms can vary during a person’s lifetime, depending on where they live and what they’re exposed to. If your primary issue is fall allergies and then you move someplace where pollen is less abundant, you’ll probably experience a drop in symptoms when autumn comes around.
Ultimately, there is no cure for allergies. But by arming yourself with allergy medication, preventative measures and pollen forecasts, you can finally enjoy autumn, rather than sneeze your way through it.