United Allergy Labs Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Frederick Schaffer, M.D., board certified allergist and immunologist, was recently featured in EverydayHealth.com.
Fall allergies have you hiding out in your home? Get back to enjoying the great outdoors with these allergy management tips.
Fall can be the worst time of year for people with seasonal allergies. And it’s a shame to stay inside to avoid allergy triggers instead of enjoying the cool weather and beautiful colors of changing leaves.
However, those changing leaves mean that other plants, like weeds, are releasing pollen into the air. Similarly, outdoor molds grow under falling leaves, exacerbating fall allergies.
“Across the United States, the number one trigger is ragweed, mainly because the plant dominates the southeast part of the country,” says Inderpal Randhawa, MD, a board-certified allergist with the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. “In general, the big players are weeds and outdoor molds. In the fall, when the weeds and outdoor molds dry up, they become airborne and wreak havoc with allergens.”
As days grow shorter and temperatures drop, we also spend more time indoors with the windows closed, exposing ourselves to more indoor allergens.
Fall Allergy Symptoms
“Allergy symptoms are based on which part of the body is exposed,” explains Dr. Randhawa. Here are the major categories for fall allergies:
Eyes and nose: “If the allergens are primarily organized in the eyes and nose, that causes watery, itchy eyes; a nose with clear, runny mucous; and lots of sneezing,” says Randhawa.
Lungs: “If allergens are going into the lungs, they typically present as wheezing episodes, which look like asthma,” he explains.
Mouth: “If allergens present themselves to the mouth, symptoms usually involve itching in the back of the throat and can actually cause someone to have upset stomach, diarrhea, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis [life-threatening allergic reaction],” Randhawa says.
Skin: “If allergens are targeting the skin, it can present as either hives or very dry, itchy skin, otherwise known as eczema,” he says.
Tips for Fall Allergy Management
Even if you have severe fall allergies, you can usually manage your symptoms and get back to enjoying the outdoors. These seasonal allergy management tips can help:
Buy a dehumidifier. You may have heard that humidifiers can help with breathing, but dehumidifiers may actually be better if you are sensitive to dust or mold. “Dust mites and molds flourish in a humid environment,” says Frederick M. Schaffer, MD, clinical associate professor of allergy and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. Use a dehymidifier to help reduce your indoor allergy symptoms.
Stay clean. One of the best ways to minimize your allergen exposure is to wash pollens off your skin and your hair as soon as possible after spending time outside, stresses Dr. Schaffer. You should also change shoes before entering the house and change clothes inside the front doorway to reduce the amount of pollen and other allergens you may be bringing into the house.
Check pollen levels. If your area is designated a high pollen zone, it’s best to avoid going outdoors. Keep your activities inside for a few days instead, if possible, to minimize your exposure to allergens during those days.
Avoid hanging clothes outdoors to dry. Laundry is a magnet for pollen that will eventually end up indoors and on you, via clothing and bedding, says Schaffer.
Take an OTC antihistamine. This is one of the easiest and most effective steps you can take, according to Randhawa. Many over-the-counter allergy drugs are now non-drowsy, long-lasting, and effective. “For best results, start using an antihistamine two to three weeks before the first day of the season and continue treatment for the first month of the season,” he says.
Buy hypoallergenic filters. “Change air conditioner filters monthly with HEPA filters,” Schaffer says. “Place the used filter in a plastic garbage bag, then dispose of the filter [within the plastic bag] outdoors. This will limit accidental ‘pollen spills’ indoors.”
Use the A/C at night. It’s where you spend eight or more hours each night, so it’s critical to keep your bedroom clean and pollen-free to avoid allergies. Close the windows and keep the A/C on at night to avoid inhaling allergens, Randhawa says. “Consider installing a HEPA filter system, especially during high season, so that you’re breathing in better purified air while you sleep.”
See a doctor if needed. “A proper allergy test will help identify the cause of your suffering and determine the right treatment to stop it,” explains J. Allen Meadows, MD, chairman of the Public Education Committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “Anyone with allergies and asthma should be able to feel good, be active all day, and sleep well at night.”
By Wyatt Myers
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH