Fall allergies, while the name seems to indicate it won’t start until the leaves start turning and the weather cools down, we begin to see patients experience symptoms in late summer as early as late July. Unfortunately, ragweed pollen starts blooming in July, and it is one of the most commonly associated with allergic rhinitis triggering allergy and asthma flare-ups.
Our doctors know that it can be difficult and confusing to know the difference between allergies and viruses like a cold or coronavirus, and the flu. Our allergists are trained to help patients pinpoint the cause of the allergies by identifying their triggers and guiding them to manage their symptoms.
Here are seven things you should know about fall allergies and asthma:
1) What are allergies and asthma?
An allergy is an immune reaction when your body mistakes a harmless substance, like pollen, for a harmful one. The body releases a substance called histamine, which can cause a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, itching, hives, and wheezing when released into the body. In some cases, reactions can occur in several places throughout the body. Welts or hives may appear, spasm in the lungs may cause coughing or wheezing, the throat, and tongue may swell – even anaphylaxis may occur. Common allergens that may trigger allergies are pollen (grass, tree, weed) mold, animal dander (dog, cat, mice, horse), food, and medications.
Allergies can be a trigger for people with asthma. Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, a chronic lung disease. Many things can trigger asthma, and the first step, when diagnosed, is to determine what triggers to avoid. Triggers could include smoke, stress, exercise, or cold air. These are things that don’t bother most people, but these triggers can make the inflammation worse for those with asthma.
2) Are fall allergies common?
Fall allergies are common; approximately 50 million people in the US – nearly one in five – have allergies. An estimated 13 million Americans suffer from hay fever—primarily due to ragweed pollen allergy.
3) What causes fall allergies?
Ragweed is the most common culprit for triggering fall allergies. Pollen counts for ragweed tend to be highest in mid-September, and those allergic should check pollen counts before planning their day and avoid peak pollen hours. We also see higher levels of mold spores in the fall. As leaves begin to fall later in the season, they can compost, keeping outdoor mold levels high.
Minimizing your contact with these triggers can help reduce symptoms. Some tips we recommend are:
- Keep doors and windows closed to reduce the amount of pollen and mold that comes indoors
- Switch out air filters seasonally
- Shower and change clothes when you come in from from doing yard work
4) How do we know if we have allergies or asthma vs. something else?
The typical symptoms of allergies are sinus congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, sneezing, coughing, and itchy or watery eyes. These symptoms are often mistaken for signs of a cold. If your symptoms return or worsen depending on the season, it could be allergies. Unlike the flu or the coronavirus, allergies and asthma do not cause a fever. While a fever can rule out allergies, if you have a fever, we would recommend contacting your primary care physician to determine if you may have the flu or COVID-19.
In late September, doctors often see a peak in hospitalizations due to asthma attacks, especially in children. In addition to the increase of allergens, as kids return to school, they can be exposed to more viruses that can trigger an exacerbation. It is important to ensure those with asthma continue to take their medication as prescribed. Summer often disrupts medication routines, so as children get back into the habit of school, it is an excellent time to get them back on schedule to help prevent hospitalizations due to their symptoms.
5) How long do fall allergies last?
Fall allergies typically flare during the ragweed pollen season, meaning the pollen will last until the first frost. In our region, we see pollen levels drop in mid to late October, and patients may start to see relief. Mold and indoor allergens are the primary allergens during cold months.
6) When should you see a specialist about your allergies and asthma?
Many can manage their allergies by avoiding the allergens they are allergic to or taking over-the-counter medications. Still, when symptoms can’t be managed, it may be time to see an allergist.
Those with asthma should control their asthma symptoms and be under the supervision of a physician. Allergists are specially trained to identify triggers of asthma, allergies, and other immunologic diseases. No other physician specialty has this level of expertise in diagnosing and treating patients with these conditions.
By visiting a specialist, we can identify what allergens are bothering you and develop a treatment plan. Immunotherapy is an option to desensitize patients to their allergens and often reduces the amount of medication over time.
7)What are some common misconceptions about allergies and asthma?
One common misconception about allergies is that it’s all in your head. However, allergies are a legitimate medical condition and occur due to a response by your immune system. Another misconception is that once you react to something, you’ll know how your body will respond in the future. It’s important to see an allergist who will determine if it was an allergic reaction. If you have, there is a potential for a more severe reaction, like anaphylaxis, in the future. Our physicians can determine if it was an allergic reaction, provide treatment options, and prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector to use if you have a more severe reaction.
Asthma is limiting. Not true! Those with controlled asthma can exercise and enjoy their life as they want. It’s important to take medication as prescribed to help keep your asthma under control. There are many athletes who even complete in the Olympics who also have asthma. Another misconception for asthma is that the medications are dangerous. Inhaled medicines that treat inflammation are the safest and most effective means of treating asthma. Untreated asthma can lead to loss of lung function.
One of our goals at Family Allergy is to remove the limitations, to the greatest extent, that allergies and asthma can place on our patients and give them their lives back. Scheduling an appointment for allergy testing can be the first step towards finding relief.