The days of pumpkin spice and apple picking are here — but you can’t stop sniffling and sneezing (and googling whether your symptoms match up with scarier COVID-19-related ones). We might think that fall should offer us a reprieve from the bursting blooms of spring and the sinus crud that often comes in with winter. However, according to Dr. Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, fall is actually quite a fertile time for allergies.
Blame it on the ragweed. “In most areas of the country, [fall] is a time of change [with] hot and humid weather easing into the cooler and drier area for the most part of the fall season,” he explains. “That generally means ragweed pollen — one of the more prolific pollen producers, as one single plant may produce billions of grains — weed pollen as well as a variety of outdoor and indoor mold spores.”
And, just like that friend who wears her flip-flops well into October, certain elements of the summer — in this case, pollen spores — like to linger on even after bathing suit season ends.
The signs and symptoms of autumn allergies aren’t much different from the sneezy, sniffling, bleary-eyed, frog-throated agonies of spring allergies since the pollen and ragweed still trigger the immune system flare-up that releases decidedly un-fun body chemicals like histamines, which cause inflammation and discomfort.
But there are apples to be picked, haunted houses to run through and many, many jackets to be modeled — so what can you do to stay sneeze-free — or at least minimize your allergies’ impact on your daily life?
See an Allergist
“Your best defense is a good offense,” says Bassett. She’s referring to an allergist. Many people just try to handle their seasonal allergies on their own, but going to a doctor and getting a formal allergy test can pinpoint the true cause of your symptoms. From there, you and your physician can develop a customized game plan that may include taking an over-the-counter nasal steroid medicine or oral antihistamines, Bassett says.
Watch the Pollen Count
You can also track the pollen count — many weather apps and sites include it in the forecast. On extremely high-pollen count days, consider eschewing that hike outdoors and hitting the indoor treadmill instead.
Keep Windows Closed
Though it’s delightful to open the windows on a cool Sunday morning, we’re not just inviting in that ephemerally crisp smell of autumn air — we’re also letting in the pollen. On the still-warm days when you’ve got to run the AC, put it on recirculate and clean out the air filters on the regular.
Shower and wash your hair at night, so you’re pollen-free while you’re sleeping. Bassett also recommends using a saline nasal wash to keep your sinuses clean and irrigated.
When you do go out, cover up to protect yourself against pollen and ragweed. Bassett says that wearing sunglasses (especially on windy days) and hats can keep these nasty allergens out of your eyes and hair.
Don’t let allergies keep you away from the joys of the fall — after all, that Halloween candy isn’t gonna eat itself. Building a plan with your physician and employing a few commonsense steps can make the difference between sneezing through the season and getting your pumpkin spice on for a long time to come.
A version of this story was published October 2019.
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