Which fall allergens are causing my symptoms?
When it comes to allergies, we don’t always think of fall as a major allergy season.
Spring allergies are most common, as thousands of plants and trees bloom from March through June. Yet, fall allergies can cause some uncomfortable symptoms too.
Find out how to avoid autumn allergens and ease fall allergy symptoms through allergen avoidance, medication and allergy immunotherapy.
There are a few reasons why your fall allergy symptoms might be getting worse year after year.
The two main reasons are climate change and environmental changes. Climate change refers to the changing of the earth’s climate and temperature due to the greenhouse effect, and environmental changes refer to any change in your home (or its surrounding) environment.
Climate change is creating chaos in all of our lives. From rising ocean levels to destructive forest fires, climate change is changing our earth’s landscape.
In addition to changing the temperature of the earth, climate change is also changing allergy seasons! Autumn weather used to start in mid-to-late September, and now it’s starting later and later (though pumpkin spice lattes seem to show up on coffee house menus earlier and earlier).
Since the seasons are changing, so are our seasonal allergies. Spring allergies have been starting up to a full month earlier in the year, and summer allergies have been starting earlier and lasting longer.
We’ve also seen record amounts of rainfall in some areas of the country in the past year, leading to more mold and fungus outbreaks.
Environmental changes might include moving to a new home or a new city.
If you’ve recently moved to an urban area (or returned to a city after the COVID lockdown), you may have noticed your allergy symptoms worsen. Why, in a landscape with fewer trees and plants, would your allergies get worse?
Pollution and poor air quality are two major problems in many cities. Pollution, heavy metals, smog and ozone all contribute to worsening allergy symptoms. If you suffer from asthma, your respiratory issues may also be worsened by both allergies and pollution.
Environmental changes in your home, such as poor air circulation, pet dander and dust, may also become more apparent when the temperatures drop.
When we turn off fans and air conditioners and close the doors and windows in the fall, air circulation tends to drop, too. Poor air circulation may lead to mold and fungus growth and dust and pet danger collection, leading to more fall allergy symptoms.
Just like with spring and summer allergies, fall comes with its own allergy triggers. The most common allergens that may cause symptoms in the fall may include ragweed, mold and fungus — though this may differ, depending on where you live.
Ragweed allergies start in the late summer and continue throughout the fall.
Ragweed blooms at this time of year, and its pollen spores may spread through the air, getting caught on your clothes, skin and hair — or blowing right into your nose, eyes, or mouth.
Even though we may not often think of fall as a typical pollen allergy season, people that suffer from fall allergies may experience extreme symptoms.
To ensure that ragweed pollen stays outside, avoid yard work in peak months (or days when pollen counts are high), and remove your clothes and shoes when entering your home. Shower and clean your hair of pollen before bed.
Mold and fungus grow in humid or wet conditions, and mold season starts in the summer and may end sometime in the late fall.
On the East Coast, hurricane season often starts in August or September and continues through October or November. Since trees shed their leaves in the fall, it’s more common to see piles of leaves on the ground during these months. Heavy wind and rains may knock leaves from their trees even faster.
Moisture can become trapped between layers of leaves and lead to mold and fungus growth.
These two allergens may also grow inside your home, too — basically in any area of the home where humidity or water become trapped. Bathrooms and kitchens are hot spots for both mold and fungus.
Keep air circulating throughout your home during colder months, and clean up any spills when they happen. Vacuum regularly to remove pet dander and dust, if you suffer from pet allergies or dust allergies.
Fall allergy symptoms are similar to other seasonal allergy symptoms. You may experience itchy eyes and nose, inflammation, redness, respiratory issues, sneezing, congestion and sinus pressure.
Fall allergy symptoms may also include:
If you experience these symptoms in certain areas of the home or outside, you may want to get tested for specific allergies. Pet, pest, dust and other indoor allergens are more prevalent in the fall (when air circulation is lower), so keep an eye for possible allergen causes.
Most doctors recommend doing a physical test for allergies as well as assessing symptoms. It’s important to get tested because allergies share symptoms with several other health conditions (including the flu and COVID), and misdiagnosis is more likely without testing.
There are three main types of allergy tests, including a skin scratch test, blood draw and at-home allergy test.
Skin scratch tests may be performed at a doctor’s or allergist’s office. Medical professionals may test for up to 50 different allergies at once with these tests.
A clinician will insert a small amount of an allergen underneath the top layer of your dermis with a needle and monitor your skin for any irritation.
These tests aren’t recommended for anyone suffering from eczema or other skin conditions, as these conditions may be exacerbated or triggered by skin scratch tests. People with a fear of needles may also opt for another type of test, too.
Blood draws may be ordered by a doctor and performed at a lab. You may need to make three separate appointments: one with your doctor for a consultation, one at the lab and a third for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Blood draws are simple and generally only take a few minutes. Once a blood sample is collected, it will be sent to a lab for analysis. Your doctor will then make a diagnosis based on the results.
This option is better than a skin scratch test for anyone that has a fear of needles, though an at-home allergy test might be a better option for these patients.
At-home allergy tests may be performed in the comfort of your own home. Simply order a test kit, follow the instructions to take a sample with the provided lancet and mail your sample to the lab for testing.
Results are usually available within a few business days.
There are two ways to manage fall allergy symptoms: avoidance and medication.
Avoidance can be tricky, as it may not be possible to avoid allergens on some days. Medication is more convenient but comes with its own drawbacks, including side effects and cost.
Many patients prefer to use a combination of allergen avoidance and medication.
There are plenty of medications available to manage fall allergy symptoms. Some of the most common medications may include antihistamines, steroids, salines and decongestants.
Most of these medications are available both over the counter and with a doctor’s prescription.
Antihistamines are effective allergy medications that can be found both over-the-counter at pharmacies and by prescription.
Allergic reactions are caused by an overreaction to non-threatening substances (allergens). The immune system sees allergens as a threat and releases histamines to attack them — just as the body releases histamines when you have a cut or bacterial infection.
The histamines fight the infection, but they also end up causing inflammation, irritation and other uncomfortable symptoms. Since allergens aren’t an infection or bacteria, they don’t need to “be fought” (though your immune system doesn’t know this!).
Antihistamines do exactly as their name suggests: work to block histamine release. Thus, they end up treating the symptoms and don’t address the root cause of allergies. This is why you need to take antihistamines continuously.
Antihistamines are available in oral tablets, eye drops and nasal sprays.
Steroid nasal sprays are available by prescription only and treat nasal allergy symptoms. These sprays may help reduce inflammation and any symptoms related to inflammation, such as redness, water nose and congestion.
While steroid sprays are considered highly effective, they do come with possible side effects, such as dry mouth and nose, unpleasant taste, itching or burning.
Doctors don’t recommend taking nasal steroids for extended periods of time, so these sprays are ideal for shorter allergy seasons. They also aren’t intended for use with alcohol or certain foods.
Decongestants used for cold and flu viruses may also be used for certain allergy symptoms, such as inflammation and congestion. Though, these medications aren’t intended for long-term use.
Since decongestants may cause drowsiness or other uncomfortable side effects, you may want to use them sparingly. They are available over the counter or with a doctor’s prescription.
Saline sprays and eye drops are effective treatments for allergy symptoms, including inflammation, itching, watering and redness. They are available over the counter and are cost-effective.
Since saline isn’t a medication, it’s not always as effective as steroids or antihistamines. Yet, it also comes with fewer side effects, so sprays and drops may be used daily (as long as you get your doctor’s approval).
Avoidance is another popular way to manage allergy symptoms (though it is less convenient than medication).
With avoidance, you simply avoid the allergens that cause symptoms — especially during peak allergy seasons.
Check pollen counts before leaving the house and consider staying inside or avoiding yard work if pollen, mold and fungus counts are high. If you’re allergic to animal dander, avoid homes with pets.
When entering your home, change your clothes (pollen can stick to clothes, skin and hair), and wash your hair before going to bed at night.
Keep air circulation flowing in your home by using fans and air purifiers and keeping windows open on warmer days.
HEPA air filters have been proven to reduce and filter airborne allergens. These filters are available for fans, air conditioners and vacuums. They effectively filter out particles that are larger than .3 microns.
You may want to consider switching to HEPA products if you suffer from severe indoor allergies, such as dust, dust mites, animal dander, mold or fungus.
If you’re tired of the never-ending hamster wheel of managing allergy symptoms with medication and avoidance, treating the root cause of allergies may be a better alternative.
Studies have shown allergy immunotherapy to be an effective way to teach your immune system to stop seeing allergens as a threat. When your immune system doesn’t feel threatened by allergens, it may stop releasing histamines whenever you come into contact with them.
One of the most popular forms of immunotherapy is subcutaneous immunotherapy — otherwise known as allergy shots.
With allergy shots, a medical professional (usually your doctor, an allergist or clinician) will administer small amounts of an allergen via injection. The body should start to build a tolerance to these allergens and learn to stop releasing histamines in response to them.
Allergy shots may be administered once a week for the buildup phase, usually at a doctor’s office. Doctors may require patients to be observed for up to 45 minutes after the injection to monitor for anaphylaxis or other reactions.
With sublingual immunotherapy, treatment is administered orally (usually under the tongue), once a day.
Anaphylaxis is rarer with sublingual immunotherapy, so patients may be able to self-administer doses at home.
Curex’s at-home immunotherapy can be shipped directly to your door and self-administered once daily. Many patients start seeing results within six months of starting sublingual immunotherapy. At-home immunotherapy is often less expensive than allergy shots, depending on your health insurance plan.