Springtime and summer are most often thought to be the seasons that can trigger allergies. Open windows, spending time outside and exposure to pollen and plants are almost always to blame for a couple months of sniffling, dry eyes and sneezing. Come mid-summer, most people begin to feel a reprieve from these symptoms, but, unfortunately, that’s not the end for all allergy sufferers; it turns out cooler fall weather can be just as allergy-inducing.
“The allergy triggers differ depending on the season, but fall allergies can be just as bad as spring allergies,” explains Dr. Charles Gawthrop, otolaryngologist at Paoli Hospital, recently recognized by US News & World Report as a Best Regional Hospital for ear, nose and throat services.
Much like in the spring, fall allergies can be a result of plants outdoors. Ragweed is typically the biggest culprit in fall allergies. Although the plant begins blooming in August, it can continue into the fall months and travel easily with the wind, which means you don’t necessarily have to have ragweed nearby you to be affected.
Also to blame for your fall sniffles? Dust mites. The microscopic insects are a common allergen, and although they thrive during the summer months, the first time you turn on your furnace when the weather changes could make them flare up and cause sneezing and runny noses.
“Typically, the symptoms of fall allergies are the same as those of spring allergies,” says Dr. Gawthrop. “A runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing are all normal, but there is also a chance that inhaling ragweed or dust mites might trigger asthma or prompt an asthma attack, so if you have trouble breathing, be especially aware of allergy season.”
Beware of sinus infections as well, he cautions. The swelling caused by fall allergies, combined with closer quarters as the weather gets colder, can lead to chronic sinus infections that can plague patients all winter.
To prevent fall allergies, take the same approach you would in earlier months by anticipating the allergy. Before the weather gets cold, clean your house just like you would for spring cleaning, being sure to thoroughly clean out any vents in your house, especially particularly dusty areas. Keep an eye out for damp areas of your basement or attic as well, as those are the prime places for mold to develop and grow, which can also trigger allergy symptoms.
Still, you may take all the right steps to prevent you or your family from being affected from these allergens and still end up with a sick household. In that case, talk to your physician, who can recommend a corticosteroid, antihistamine or decongestant to relieve your symptoms and ease you through fall allergy season. More severe cases of allergies may require a series of allergy shots.
Environmental allergies like these can sometimes be out of our control, but food allergies aren’t. As children prepare to head back to school, make sure their teachers and food service team are aware of any existing food allergies. Although it’s something to consider year-round, allergies like these are important to be reminded of at the beginning of the school year.
If you’re suffering from allergies or would like to schedule an allergy test to find out what you or someone in your family is allergic to, find a Main Line Health physician near you who can help you.