Learn to outsmart the season’s sneakiest allergy producers.
When you think about allergies, springtime springs to mind. But fall? The season known for pumpkin spiced everything also aggravates a variety of allergies, confirms Dr. Jennifer Camacho, an allergist and immunologist at Scarsdale Medical Group. “Fall allergy season comes on slowly and lingers a lot longer than in spring,” she says. Here’s a breakdown of autumnal allergy highlights:
Pollen: Ragweed pollen peaks around Labor Day, while other weed pollens (pigweed, dock, sorrel, lamb’s quarter) proliferate in September, when grass pollen resurges.
Allergy action plan: If you know you’re allergic to pollen, start taking allergy medications (antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, and/or eye drops should alleviate the usual symptoms) in late summer, or as early as possible. When you’re indoors, keep windows shut and the A/C on to avoid unnecessary exposure. If OTC medicines don’t work, consider immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or pills. “These are the only ways to reduce your immune system’s allergic response to pollen,” says Dr. Camacho.
Mold: As summer’s vegetation dies and starts to decay, outdoor mold peaks. These mold spores waft through open windows and get tracked into homes on feet, clothes, and hair. Indoors, mold easily proliferates in damp areas.
Allergy action plan: Though allergy shots exist to combat some molds, the best bet is prevention, says Dr. Camacho. Wear a mask when doing outdoor fall cleanups. Indoors, investigate possible sources of mold, like any roof, window, or plumbing leaks. Keep bathrooms and the kitchen well ventilated, and use a dehumidifier in damp basements. Regular use of nasal steroid sprays can also help reduce allergies caused by mold spores.
Dust mites and pet dander: These allergies tend to flare come fall, thanks to more time spent indoors.
Allergy action plan: Get your heating system cleaned before you use it, and clean or replace air filters. If you know you’re allergic to dust mites, focus on your bedroom. Get rid of carpets and replace curtains with blinds that can be frequently wiped down. Encase mattresses and pillows in dust mite-proof covers and wash bedding in hot water weekly. Keep the air as dry as possible and clutter to a bare minimum. “Chronic nasal congestion is the hallmark of dust mite allergy, so you may want to use nasal steroid sprays,” says Dr. Camacho. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) can work for dust allergies too. And oral immunotherapy— pills instead of shots for dust mite allergy—are now also available, Dr. Camacho adds. If you have a pet you love, keep taking those meds, and keep your home as clean as you can. Allergy shots help with animal allergies, and many people need them. “You can’t completely eliminate animal hair and dander from the home,” Dr. Camacho notes.
Is It an Allergy or Cold? Sometimes it can be hard to discern if you’ve got a cold or an allergy. Here’s a cheat sheet:
• Colds are random. Allergies are predictable. A cold lasts a week to 10 days and can happen anytime; allergies linger longer and rear their heads at predictable times.
• Chronic congestion generally indicates an allergy. “Many people with undiagnosed allergies say, ‘Oh, I’m just always stuffed up/sneezy/ coughing,’” says Dr. Camacho.
• Fever isn’t an allergy symptom. If you have fever, aches and pains, or nausea, you likely have a cold or even the flu.
Still not sure? Visit your primary care physician and ask if you should see an allergy specialist.