Watery eyes, runny noses, constant sneezing, and itchy throats – these days, widespread allergy symptoms are acting as the precursors of the fall season more often than the turning of the leaves.
Although the temperature has cooled and the spring and summer flowers are no longer blooming, many plants continue to release symptom-triggering pollen well into the fall months. This means that relief will have to be postponed for the nation’s approximately 36 million seasonal allergy-sufferers. Or does it?
Ragweed, Mold, and Dust Mites – Oh My!
Of the three main culprits fueling the fall allergy season, ragweed is by far the largest contributor. The yellow-flowering weed, which grows to blanket fields, roadsides, river banks, and vacant lots throughout the country, is a common sight in the North, South, and Midwest from mid-August through October. It’s during these months that ragweed plants pollinate and each produce as many as 1 million grains of pollen a day, according to American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). During an average ragweed season, the plants release about 1 billion pollen grains into the air – all capable of traveling up to 400 miles. This can quickly exacerbate a person’s allergy symptoms that are still lingering from spring and summer months.
Mold spores typically require damp, humid environments to reproduce, making them populous amidst the thunderstorms and heat of summer. But surprisingly, the fungus doesn’t have to search hard for a new home in the crisp air of fall. As the past seasons’ plants and shrubbery die and leaves fall from trees, decomposing plant debris accumulates in piles on the ground. Rainstorms will add moisture to the piles of vegetation, and the showers, coupled with earlier darkness, create an ideal food source for mold. Spores can quickly become airborne with the wind and travel to a variety of places, including the interior of your home. Damp basements and bathrooms are also prime locations for mold growth.
Dust mites, the microscopic and spider-like bugs that are most prevalent in the humid summer months, can also make unwelcome appearances in the fall. Turning on the furnace for the first time can stir up and excite dust mites that have been lying dormant in carpets, upholstered furniture, blankets, pillows, and mattresses. Moreover, warmer indoor air temperatures during the fall and winter months create encouraging environments for dust mite life and reproduction.
Symptoms of Fall Allergies
Along with aggravating existing asthma conditions, ragweed pollen, mold, and dust mites all contribute to an allergy condition called allergic rhinitis – or more commonly, hay fever. Symptoms of fall season hay fever include:
- runny nose
- watery eyes
- itchy eyes, nose and roof of mouth
- sore throat
- pressure in the nose and cheeks
- dark circles under the eyes
People who suffer from hay fever are also susceptible to a condition called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). According to the AAAAI, OAS results from a reaction between seasonal airborne pollen proteins and similar proteins found in fresh fruits and vegetables. During the reaction, a person’s immune system mistakes food proteins for pollen proteins, which causes an allergic reaction the food.
Symptoms of OAS include itchiness, swelling, and hives that affect the mouth, face, lip, and throat areas. OAS most often occurs when consuming bananas, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, sunflower seeds, chamomile tea, and Echinacea. The condition is also common in people with birch tree pollen allergies. Trigger foods for people with this type of allergy include peaches, apples, pears, cherries, carrots, kiwis, almonds, and hazelnut.
Suit Up To Fight Fall Allergens
To find relief from and protect against fall allergies, it’s important to first speak with an allergist or immunologist if you experience any of the symptoms associated with fall allergies. Your physician can make an accurate diagnosis, and together, you can both decide on the most effective plan of treatment for your condition, whether that means taking an allergy medication, getting allergy shots, avoiding certain triggers, or a combination of all 3.
Along with medicinal treatments, there are lots of things you can do at home to lessen the severity of allergy symptoms or even eliminate them all together. Some tips for managing fall allergies at home include:
1.) Stay Indoors When Pollen Is At Its Peak. Pollen peaks between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so remain indoors with the doors and windows closed during these hours of the day to lessen your risk of developing symptoms. Also, consider tracking the daily pollen count in your area. The AAAAI Web site provides daily pollen and mold counts for a variety of cities across the U.S., courtesy of the National Allergy Bureau.
2.) Clean Heating Ducts Before Using The Furnace. During the summer months, mold and other allergen particles can become trapped in furnace vents. When you turn on the heat for the first time in the fall, these particles can float around and fill the air. To protect against this, it’s a good idea to have your heating ducts cleaned by a professional before using your furnace.
3.) Use An Air Purifier With A High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filter. An appropriately sized air purifier with a HEPA filter will work to remove 99.97% of pollen, mold, dust mites, and other air particles sized 0.3 microns and larger from your indoor air. This will result in purer, cleaner, and more breathable air.
4.) Control Humidity With A Dehumidifier. Dust mites, mold, and bacteria cannot survive in a climate where the relative humidity is less than 50%. Use an appropriately sized dehumidifier to draw out moisture from too-humid air and kill these allergy-triggers. Ideally, indoor humidity should fall between 45 and 50%.
5.) Shower after spending time outside. Pollen outside can collect on your hair and skin, and as a result, be dispersed throughout your home when you go back inside. Shower and change clothes after you have spent time outside. If you have to do yard work, wear a mask and sunglasses to avoid breathing in pollen and to prevent it from entering your eyes.
6.) Clean With An Allergen-Busting Vacuum. Vacuums have become modernized to include features such as HEPA filtration and advanced suction technology. Bissell’s Healthy Home Vacuum not only uses cyclonic suction to clean up dirt, dust, and other particles, but it also releases HEPA-filtered air back into your home to help increase air quality.
By arming yourself with accurate medical advice, these healthy home tips, and the right allergen-reducing tools, you won’t fall victim to seasonal allergies for another autumn season.
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