Sure, it doesn’t feel like fall, but mild temperatures mixed with rain equals plant and pollen growth – and lots of it. Yes, fall allergies are upon us.
“Aug. 15 is not only the start of school, but also the start of fall allergy season," said Dr. Ann Hennessey with Mercy Kids. "It has to do with the daylight ratio that changes after the summer solstice. It's just enough to germinate some of those pollens."
About 1 in 6 Americans (17 percent) suffer from seasonal allergies, making them the fifth most common chronic disease in the United States.
Many people suffer from hay fever and try to "wait it out," hoping to get by with over-the-counter drugs, or by staying inside until the season, the environment, or something, changes. For many others, the cause of their problem is not just seasonal: "It's always there."
If you are already suffering, it is probably mold allergy. Mold is a very real problem in the Midwest due to moisture, humidity and lots of trees, grass and weeds. Mold is particularly bad during the summer and fall with all the heat and humidity. It changes even more frequently that the pollen seasons of spring, summer and fall. There is a different mold that releases spores almost every week. They are everywhere because of their small size and float for hundreds of miles even if you do not live at the lake or nearby fields of hay.
Ragweed will start to pollenate mid-August and peaks usually on Labor Day. It often stays around until the first hard freeze of winter and is really bad if we have an Indian Fall with high heat and humidity. Each ragweed plant can release more than a million pollen grains and blow on the breeze especially later in the day. If you want to minimize your exposure to ragweed during the season, try doing your outdoor work or exercise in the morning hours.
You can select from many different medications, but the most effective are probably the over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays. They work best if used every day for the season. Even better, you might seek an allergy evaluation by a board-certified allergist.
What are the symptoms of seasonal allergies?
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny, stuffy or itchy nose
- Temporary loss of smell
- Headache and fatigue
- Dark circles under the eyes ("allergic shiners")
- Drainage from the nose down the back of the throat (postnasal drip)
- Sore throat or coughing
How can you help prevent seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies, such as hay fever, often are caused by exposure to pollen. You can reduce your exposure to pollen by:
- Keeping your house and car windows closed
- Limiting the time you spend outside when pollen counts are high (during midday and afternoon)
- Wearing a pollen mask or dust mask if you need to mow the lawn
- Limiting your mowing tasks if you can
- Rinsing your eyes with cool water or saline eyedrops to remove clinging pollen after you come indoors
- Taking a shower and changing your clothes after you work or play outside
How can you treat seasonal allergies?
The following home treatment measures may help relieve your symptoms:
- Clean the inside of your nose with salt water to clear a stuffy nose.
- Use a vaporizer or humidifier in the bedroom and take hot showers to help clear a stuffy nose.
- If your nose is red and raw from rubbing, put petroleum jelly on the sore area.
- Use over-the-counter allergy medicine to help your symptoms. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- To relieve a stuffy nose, use a steroid nasal spray (such as Nasacort). A steroid nasal spray also can help with red, itchy, watery eyes.
- Another way to relieve a stuffy nose is a nasal or oral decongestant (such as Afrin or Sudafed PE). Decongestants may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems.
- For itchy and/or watery eyes, sneezing or a runny, itchy nose, try a nonsedating, over-the-counter antihistamine, like fexofenadine (such as Allegra) or loratadine (such as Claritin). Other antihistamines, like chlorpheniramine (such as Chlor-Trimeton) and diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), are less expensive but can make you feel sleepy or tired. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.
- To help relieve pain, try acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
If your symptoms still bother you, ask your doctor about prescription nasal antihistamines. Or ask if immunotherapy might help you. For this treatment, you get allergy shots or use pills that have a small amount of certain allergens in them. Your body "gets used to" the allergen, so you react less to it over time. This kind of treatment may help prevent or reduce some allergy symptoms.