From late August until the first hard frost, between 15 and 25 percent of people find themselves battling seasonal allergies. Find out which fall allergens to watch for, get tips to avoid them and—if you do get stuck with a runny nose and sneezes—the best ways to treat stubborn symptoms.

The 4-1-1 on allergies

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. This brings on allergy symptoms like sneezing, a hoarse or sore throat, itchy eyes and a runny nose.

Common fall allergens

  1. Weeds are some of the worst offenders. 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, an allergist at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
    • Ragweed is transported by wind, meaning 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.
    • Less common weeds like goldenrod, curly dock, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, sheep sorrel and sagebrush can set off symptoms as well.
  2. Mold is a fungi with spores that spread through the air. While mold can be found in your home and cause allergy symptoms all year long—think steamy bathroom, air vents and garbage cans—outdoor mold spores are especially abundant during the fall. Spores set up shop in piles of leaves, foliage-filled gutters and other damp areas that provide them the food, air, right temperature and water to grow. Mold is often thought to be 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.

Best ways to avoid top triggers

Knowing your triggers is key to reducing symptoms. During the fall, weed pollen counts are highest in the mornings between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., so avoid spending long periods of time outside during these hours.

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, consider changing clothes or even showering as soon as you come inside.”

To avoid outdoor mold allergens, leave doors and windows closed, check mold counts before venturing out and remain inside (with the air conditioner on) when counts are high. Whenever possible, leave the leaf raking and gutter cleaning to someone else. Keep your indoor surfaces spotless: regularly clean warm, damp places that mold loves. Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels low.

Treatment options for quick relief

Over the counter medications like antihistamines, decongestants and nasal steroids are one way to treat symptoms. If they don’t provide 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’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, consult your healthcare provider before symptoms arise. “There is no cure for allergies, but allergy shots can 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.”

October 28, 2017
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