That Other Allergy Season
Spring's not the only culprit. Right now, as the leaves begin to fall, you may hear lots of people telling you "Gezundheit."
It’s not only springtime when sneezin’ and wheezin’ are in season. Fact is, fall can be just as bad symptom-wise for some sufferers, as the ragweed, weed pollen and outdoor mold that accumulate on fallen leaves make themselves at home. Here on the East Coast in recent years, experts say, fall allergies have been getting worse.
“In the past few years, Bergen County has been having milder winters, which in turn leads to the ragweed and weed pollen persisting into late November,” says Sima Mithani, M.D., who practices adult and pediatric allergy and immunology at ENT and Allergy Associates in Hackensack. But you needn’t entirely hide from the joys of pumpkin picking, Oktoberfest drinking and pie eating during the fall allergy peak in September and October. Heed these tips from Dr. Mithani:
- Close windows and avoid peak allergen times. Keeping windows shut during high-pollen times of the year can help reduce exposure to those allergens, says our doc. She says that you may also want to stay inside during peak times when possible; pollen levels tend to be at their worst during the morning hours and on windy and warm days, while mold is more prevalent on days with high humidity. You can also check the pollen count before heading out for the day on the news, apps or on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) website.
- Prepare your home. Just as you’ll use a humidifier in the winter to increase the moisture in the air, fall is the time to whip out that air purifier. “Air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters are helpful for removing allergens from the air such as dust mites, pollen and pet dander,” says Dr. Mithani. If you have a dust-mite allergy, consider a few small lifestyle changes, such as “washing bedsheets and pillow covers in hot water frequently and removing curtains and drapes which may collect dust.” And when entering your home, take off your shoes to prevent pollen from circulating everywhere, and shower and wash your hair as soon as possible.
- Treat your symptoms. Runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and itchy and watery eyes are common symptoms of allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies), says the doctor, but “the type and severity of symptoms can vary in each person and with each season.” Common over-the-counter treatment options include antihistamines (pills), intranasal steroids and intranasal antihistamines (both nose drops), but what works best for you depends on your specific needs.
- Seek help from a specialist. If your symptoms don’t improve with medications or avoidance measures, or they’re interfering with your daily life, book an appointment with an allergist. He or she will perform environmental allergen skin testing to see what your allergens are, and then “tailor a treatment plan that is best to manage your allergy symptoms and to improve your quality of life,” says Dr. Mithani. For some patients, a good option is allergen immunotherapy—aka allergy shots that desensitize you to an allergen. “This helps reduce allergy symptoms, which in turn reduces the need to use allergy medications over time,” she adds.
IF YOU HAVE SPRING ALLERGIES, DO YOU HAVE FALL ALLERGIES TOO?
Not necessarily, says Sima Mithani, M.D., an allergist at ENT and Allergy Associates in Hackensack, as the culprits in spring are entirely separate from the fall culprits, which are primarily ragweed, weed pollen and mold. The only way to know for sure what you’re allergic to is to undergo environmental allergen skin testing at an allergist’s office—and, of course, to follow your (sniffly) nose.