Managing fall allergies

September 27, 2021
5 min read
Faoud Ishmael, MD, PhD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Allergy/Immunology


Faoud Ishmael, MD


Fall is here, bringing with it cooler, crisper weather and colorful leaves. This time of year can also bring allergies and the accompanying uncomfortable symptoms. Fall allergy triggers are different, but they can cause just as many symptoms as spring and summer allergies.

Typical allergy symptoms include runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, headaches, rashes or hives on the skin, and asthma symptoms such as coughing or wheezing. It’s important to note that fall allergy symptoms can overlap with the common cold, flu, or COVID-19. A critical distinguishing factor for allergies is that they do not cause a fever.

What causes fall allergies?

Grasses and weeds such as ragweed are a major source of late summer/fall allergies. Ragweed in particular seems to wreak havoc between August and November, reaching peak levels in mid-September. Just one ragweed plant can product up to 1 billion pollen grains, and the pollen can travel far.

Mold is another fall trigger. Piles of damp leaves are ideal breeding grounds for mold. Breathing in spores can aggravate asthma and cause coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and other upper respiratory symptoms in people with mold allergies.

Dust mites can get stirred into the air the first time you turn on your heat in the fall, triggering allergy symptoms.

Going back to school can also bring on allergies in kids because mold and dust mites can be present in schools and older buildings.

Allergies can also predispose patients to upper respiratory tract infections, so children with allergies may get more colds in the fall and winter.

How are fall allergies diagnosed?

To determine what’s causing your allergy symptoms, your doctor can talk to you about your medical history and symptoms and may recommend a skin test. This involves placing a tiny amount of the allergen on your skin -- usually on your back or forearm -- and then pricking or scratching the skin underneath. If you're allergic, you’ll get a small, raised bump that itches like a mosquito bite. In some cases, your doctor may do a blood test to evaluate the allergies.

How can I keep fall allergies to a minimum?

Mold spores and pollen can stick to everything, including hair, skin, and clothing. You might be unknowingly tracking irritants into the house. Minimize your risk with the following tips:

  • Wear a face mask when you rake leaves outdoors to avoid breathing in mold spores.
  • Throw your clothes into the washer and head straight for the shower after outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, gardening, and raking.
  • Brush or wipe down pets after walks—pollen can hitchhike on their fur.
  • Leave your shoes outside to keep pollen and mold from spreading throughout the house.
  • Close windows during your pollen/mold allergy season, and stay indoors with doors and windows closed when pollen is at its peak (usually in the late morning or midday).
  • Before turning on the heat for the first time, clean heating vents and change the filter. 
  • Change the furnace/air filter every 90 days.
  • Use a dehumidifier in the basement. Damp basements are a common source of mold.

How are fall allergies treated?

Many medications are available for treating allergies, including steroid or antihistamine nasal sprays to reduce inflammation in your nose, antihistamines to help stop sneezing and itching, and eye drops to help itching, redness, and tearing of the eyes. Decongestants can help relieve stuffiness but should only be used for a few days in a row. Steroid creams and ointments can treat itchy rashes. Immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots can also help.

Be sure to discuss these treatments with your doctor, who may also recommend allergy shots or prescription-strength medications and can discuss other options.

This article originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times.

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