Many people associate allergies with springtime, but ragweed pollen and outdoor molds that arrive in the fall bring just as much misery.
More than 35 million Americans endure burning, itchy eyes; sneezing; sniffles; and chapped nostrils caused by allergic rhinitis or hay fever, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). People who have asthma often have allergies that trigger asthma attacks.
If allergies bother you in the fall, you’re most likely sensitive to one or more of the following molds, weeds, trees, or grasses.
Molds, which produce airborne spores, are common during autumn. Outdoor molds are plentiful in damp gutters, rotten wood, and fallen leaves. Damp fall weather also encourages mold growth indoors in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, carpets, houseplants, refrigerators, garbage cans, books, and upholstered furniture.
Ragweed is the most common cause of late summer and fall hay fever symptoms in the United States. This yellow-flowering weed blooms from mid-August to the first frost. It’s most prevalent throughout the Northeast and Midwest, but almost every part of the United States has some ragweed pollen.
Trees and grasses
Most trees and grasses cause allergy symptoms in the spring, but those that pollinate in the fall, such as cedar elm, Chinese elm, September elm and eucalyptus, cause allergic reactions in autumn. Fall allergenic grasses include pampas grass and wild mustard.
You can't prevent allergies, but you can reduce your exposure to allergens, which will ease your symptoms. The following suggestions from the AAAAI can help you reduce your exposure and response to fall allergens:
Wear a face mask while mowing or raking leaves. Better yet, have someone else do these chores for you.
Cut back trees and brush that overhang your house and remove leaves, clippings, and compost from your yard.
Repot plants outdoors.
Shower and wash your hair after spending time outdoors.
Delay outdoor activities until after midmorning, when pollen counts are highest. Also, try to avoid spending long periods of time outside on dry, windy days, when pollen is more likely to fill the air. You’re likely to have fewer symptoms on rainy, cloudy, and windless days.
Avoid spending time outdoors in the afternoon if mold spores trigger your symptoms.
Keep windows closed to prevent triggers from entering your home.
Keep car windows closed and run the air conditioning while in the car. It’s often helpful to let the air conditioning run for a minute or two with the windows open after first turning it on, to eliminate any mold buildup in the system.
If you can't avoid triggers, or if avoiding them doesn't help your symptoms, talk to your health care provider about treatment. A variety of medications are available to treat allergies. These include antihistamines and decongestants, either alone or in combination. Nasal sprays, including nasal steroids and cromolyn sodium, also are effective. Allergy shots can provide long-term relief.