As the summer sun gives way to cooler weather and colorful foliage, many of us look forward to the cozy comforts of autumn. However, for some, this seasonal change can also bring an unwelcome problem: fall allergies.
Many people consider spring the toughest time of year for allergies, but fall can also be tricky. Fall allergens can trigger allergy symptoms that range from mild irritation to more severe discomfort.
If you’re among the many who suffer from fall allergies, don’t fret. Read on to understand why allergies happen during this time of year, the most common fall allergens to watch out for and ways to make this season more enjoyable.
Fall versus spring allergies: What is the difference?
Although they may feel the same, there is a difference between fall and spring seasonal allergies.
“Spring allergies are typically caused by pollen released from trees, while fall allergies are primarily triggered by pollen from grasses and weeds,” said Nora Odisho Dormit, DO, a pediatric and adult allergist and immunologist with Banner – University Medicine.
Fall allergens vary depending on where you live, but they tend to be strongest from late summer to early winter.
What causes fall allergies?
One key factor fueling fall allergies is changing weather patterns. As days become shorter and temperatures drop, certain plants release pollen into the air as they prepare for winter.
“Many symptoms are similar to springtime allergies, but we typically see asthma worsen in the fall because the pollen season coincides with the start of cold/flu season as well,” Dr. Odisho said.
Common autumn allergens
Ragweed is the most common fall allergen. A single plant may produce billions of lightweight pollen grains that can travel through the air for miles. Ragweed pollen is a potent allergen responsible for many fall allergy symptoms.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 75% of people who suffer springtime allergies will also be affected by ragweed in the fall. It is the common cause of hay fever (or seasonal allergic rhinitis).
However, other weeds contribute to fall allergies. Certain species of trees – such as elm, cedar and juniper – produce highly allergic pollen in the fall.
Mold and mildew
Found both indoors and outdoors, mold and mildew can be spread by the wind or through air ducts in your home and other buildings. Mold and mildew can also grow year-round in some parts of the country.
Fall leaves and decaying vegetation create an ideal environment for mold growth during the fall. Mold and mildew also thrive in damp areas or areas with poor circulation, such as basements, closets, summer homes and cabins or anywhere there has been flooding or water damage.
Dust mites are tiny creatures (arthropods) that thrive in warm and humid environments. They feed off flakes of human skin that are shed naturally around the home.
Although not limited to the fall, dust mites usually die in extreme temperatures or if the humidity drops below 70%. However, as people spend more time indoors with closed windows and less ventilation during the fall, this creates the perfect condition for dust mites to thrive and allergies to bloom.
Fall allergy symptoms
How do you know it’s fall allergies or just a cold? While symptoms can appear similar, there are some distinct differences.
“With allergies, your mucus will most likely be clear and thin,” Dr. Odisho said. Allergies might also lead to itching of the eyes, nose or throat, which is not commonly associated with colds.
Allergies generally do not cause fever. If you have a fever, it's more likely to be due to an infection like a cold or flu rather than allergies.
Ways to keep your head clear and get relief
In addition to allergy medications, a few simple steps can help ease your fall allergy symptoms.
- Check pollen levels: Stay informed about local pollen forecasts and try to limit outdoor activities on days when pollen counts are high – especially in the early morning and late afternoon. Shower and shampoo your hair after working and playing outside.
- Keep indoor air clean: Use air purifiers with HEPA filters to lower indoor allergens. Regularly clean your home and bedding to get rid of dust mites and mold spores.
- Avoid raking (or playing in) leaves: If you have fall allergies, ask someone else to rake your leaves since this activity can stir up pollen and mold spores. Also, as fun as it is to jump into a pile of leaves, it may not be worth the allergies that happen afterwards.
- Wear a mask: When doing outdoor chores like mowing the lawn or gardening, consider wearing a mask to limit breathing in any allergens.
- Keep windows closed: While the crisp fall air might be tempting, keeping windows closed can help prevent allergens from entering your home.
- Use nasal rinses: Rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution can help flush out allergens and ease nasal congestion. Your health care provider or pharmacist can show you how to use nasal rinses safely and comfortably.
- Try over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Antihistamines, decongestants and nasal corticosteroids are available over-the-counter and can relieve allergy symptoms. “If you know you start sneezing and having watery eyes every year around Labor Day, start your over-the-counter or prescribed medications in late August to help prevent symptoms,” said Dr. Odisho.
See your health care provider or allergist
Contact your provider if your fall allergy symptoms are affecting your quality of life, such as sleep and ability to work or go to school, or if you’re experiencing respiratory (breathing) problems, such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing.
Your provider or an allergist can run tests to identify specific allergens triggering your symptoms and recommend a personalized treatment plan. If necessary, they may also prescribe stronger medications or immunotherapy (allergy shots).
If you have questions, you can find a Banner Health specialist near you.
Don’t let fall allergies keep you from enjoying the great weather! By minimizing your exposure to allergens and taking a few easy steps to find relief from your symptoms, you can enjoy the beauty and coziness of autumn without being overwhelmed by fall allergens.