by Barbara Moroch –
Just when you thought it was safe to go outside…more hazards await: fall allergies. While most people associate allergies with springtime, the other peak season is right around the corner, ready to wreak havoc — bringing with it a return to sneezing, runny noses, nasal congestion and more.
While spring allergies are caused by tree pollen, fall allergies are caused by weeds, with ragweed being the biggest culprit. Ragweed pollen is a common allergen with symptoms that can start as early as August, reaching peak levels in September and October. It can be airborne for miles, spreading a path of misery for allergy sufferers along the way — with symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, scratchy throat and nasal congestion.
In addition to ragweed pollen, there are also some lesser-known triggers for fall allergies. While most people enjoy Indian summer, unseasonably warm temperatures can make allergy symptoms last longer. Mold spores can also be released when humidity is high, or the weather is dry and windy. In addition, falling leaves can stir agitating pollen and mold into the air, exacerbating symptoms.
Ways to get relief
There are a host of medications designed to help alleviate the symptoms associated with allergies, regardless of the season. Advises Dr. Kwak, “OTC medications should be used early in the allergy season, because the more irritated the respiratory tissue becomes, the harder it is to get relief.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) saline sprays: They can often rinse allergens out of your nose when you come in from the outdoors and before going to sleep. There are numerous OTC antihistamines that can be very helpful, but be careful of side effects that can include drowsiness the next morning. Saline sprays and artificial tears are most helpful in washing pollen out of the nose and eyes.
- OTC nasal steroids: These sprays must be administered only at the recommended dosages, and when used, must be placed in the nose pointing to the ear. It will often take 3 to 11 days before the full benefits can be felt.
- Antihistamines and decongestants: Antihistamines reduce sneezing, sniffling, and itching by lowering the amount of histamine in the body, while decongestants shrink the blood vessels in the nasal passageways to relieve congestion.
- Eye drops: Helps relieve itchy, watery eyes.
- Keep windows closed: This will help keep ragweed pollen out of your house or, if it’s warm enough, run the air conditioner that can filter out large airborne pollen particles.
- Monitor the pollen count: Pollen counts are usually highest between 4:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., so minimizing early-morning activities may help you get a jumpstart on a symptom-free day. Shower and shampoo after playing or working outside.
- Remove contact lenses: If you wear contact lenses, remove them if you have red, swollen, or itchy eyes. Contact lenses can further irritate eye allergies and make the condition worse.
- Think “HEPA”: Purchase a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or dehumidifier and vacuum the house every week with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.
Finally, people should see an allergist when the quality of their life is so impaired that they are unable to fully function and/or enjoy their normal lifestyle.