Depending on where you live and your medical history, you may battle seasonal allergies. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) defines allergies as your immune system overreacting to a substance it's identified as harmful. Allergens come in many forms, such as certain foods, drugs, plants like grass or ragweed, or animals.
As autumn approaches, you may experience seasonal allergy symptoms specific to weather and conditions at this time of year. Luckily, you won't have to change your outdoor plans too much if you know what triggers, or allergens, to avoid and other measures you can take to treat or prevent fall allergies.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
While allergens like foods and pets can impact those susceptible to them year-round, other common causes of allergies, such as pollen and mold, can be more seasonal. The most prevalent symptoms of these types of allergies are sneezing, congestion, itchy and/or runny nose, postnasal drip, and itchy, red, or watery eyes. Allergies can seem like a cold, but if symptoms last longer than a few weeks, it's more likely to be allergies instead, says Angelina Crans Yoon, MD, allergist-immunologist at Dignity Health Medical Foundation - Woodland and Davis.
Allergies that flare during certain times of year, such as the fall, are usually caused by factors like the following:
- Air quality issues, such as smoke from wildfires, industrial smog, or other pollutants
- Agricultural activity, such as harvesting and planting
- Pollination of certain trees and weeds
- Warmer weather, which can breed outdoor molds
Immune system sensitivities can vary wildly, so some people may just have allergies at certain times of the year while others suffer year-round. Children tend to be more susceptible to allergies, but instances of allergies in both children and adults have risen, affecting about 40 percent and 30 percent of these populations, respectively, according to the AAFA.
People with asthma, allergic rhinitis, eczema, food allergies, and related conditions on the allergy spectrum may also be more prone to seasonal allergies, said Dr. Crans Yoon. "That's why it's important to get tested — to really evaluate your triggers so you can know what to avoid, when to avoid it, and what medications might be helpful."
How to Treat Fall Allergies
According to the AAFA, your doctor may employ any of three treatment strategies for your allergies: avoidance of allergens, medication options, and/or immunotherapy, which trains your immune system to stop overreacting to an allergen.
Most commonly, Dr. Crans Yoon said, doctors will suggest over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as a nasal steroid. She said these tend to be most effective because "they work on a lot of different aspects of the allergic or immune response." While these medications are safe, Dr. Crans Yoon said common side effects are local irritation or a nosebleed. "And if that happens, patients should come in and get evaluated," she said.
OTC antihistamines, another common treatment, can also be helpful, but Dr. Crans Yoon recommends the second-generation varieties. "They tend to be nonsedating and have significantly less side effects than the older antihistamines like Benadryl."
Dr. Crans Yoon also suggests general preventative measures, such as keeping the doors and windows closed. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology also recommends checking pollen and mold counts in your local weather reports and taking a shower, washing your hair, and changing your clothes after work or spending significant time outdoors.
Seasonal Allergy Prevention Tips
Ultimately, when possible, the best way to prevent or alleviate allergy symptoms is to know how, when, and where to avoid the allergen in question. But Dr. Crans Yoon also offers a pro tip for those who dread the fall or other seasons because of their impending seasonal allergy flares. "If you know the season that you're sensitive to, I tend to recommend starting medications a couple weeks before you anticipate the symptoms starting," she said. "That can actually prevent the symptoms from getting worse and help the medications work better over the entire season."
Beacuse fall comes with back-to-school sicknesses, in addition to its own set of allergens, parents can start planning to get ahead of allergies and other infections that could keep children home from school. "Making sure that your child's allergies are well-contained before starting school can improve their concentration, how restful their sleep is, and probably improve their school performance," said Dr. Crans Yoon.
If you or your loved ones are suffering from seasonal allergies, speak with your doctor about treatment and prevention options for relief from your symptoms and a return to your normal daily life, 365 days a year.