Allergies are usually associated with spring – and many people are caught off guard when they notice allergy symptoms in September. Allergies are complicated; there are some allergies that are specific to the season, as well as ones that are around all year long. This article discusses the common causes of allergies in the fall, and how you can best avoid or mitigate the symptoms.
Are runny noses, watery eyes, sneezing, and itchy skin getting you down? Chances are, you are familiar with these symptoms – allergies – in the spring months, but you may be surprised that these symptoms are hitting you again in September. With the drier and hotter summer this year, Canadians may be in for a worse than usual allergy season this fall.
Isn’t Allergy a Spring Thing?
Most of us that suffer from allergies brace for impact when spring comes along. Spring is when flowers pollinate for many florae, triggering the usual symptoms of runny noses, itchy eyes, and general exhaustion. For many, allergies are indeed seasonal, and spring is when it hits us the hardest. However, allergies are a fickle thing, and there is an enormous number of potential substances that people can be allergic to, and many potential triggers are year-round. Some allergies are specific to the fall season.
The most common triggers for allergies in the fall are:
- Dust Mites
Allergies are a constant challenge to live with. Both the symptoms and severity are very individual. They can also be unpredictable. It isn’t uncommon for people who have never had any problems with grass, pollen, or nuts to become allergic to them one day. Other times, one can lose their allergies or “outgrow” them as their bodies become less sensitive.1 While this unpredictability presents a challenge for researchers, there are predictable ways to prepare for them. Understanding the most common sources of allergies and reducing exposure is one way to limit the damage.
Ragweed is the most common allergy in the fall season. Sometimes called bursages, it is a hardy plant that can survive under many conditions. Ragweed pollen is commonly a trigger for allergic rhinitis, and this plant is native to East and Central North America. In Canada, ragweed pollen primarily affects Canadians living in Southern Ontario and the Western Quebec area.2 Possibly due to climate change, the traditional range where ragweed grows may be increasing. Additionally, pollen can travel over 500 kilometers, so the range it has is extensive, and those with sensitivities are affected even if they don’t see any ragweed where they live. 2018, in particular, maybe more problematic than usual due to having a drier summer as rain helps to reduce the pollen in the air.
In addition to ragweed, there are a few relatives of ragweed that can also be problematic for people with allergies to ragweed pollen: Sunflowers, daisies, and chrysanthemums are closely related to ragweed.3 Unfortunately, it can be tough to completely avoid triggering pollen allergies as there are so many potential triggers. While complete avoidance is rarely a realistic option, just a bit of awareness can prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot. For example, not choosing these flowers to add to your garden will help your cause.
- The pollen count is highest in the morning hours from 5-10 AM. While it’s unrealistic to avoid the outdoors entirely during this time, there are times where you may want to opt-out and pick a better time to go out.
- Shower and change your clothes when you get back home. Pollen can stick to you or your clothes. You don’t want to be spreading the pollen all-around your house.
- Keep your home protected; keep the windows closed and have the air conditioning on.
- Purchase a mask when you’re outside gardening or doing outdoor chores.
Mold is an all-season allergy. Mold travels in spores through the air and sets up shop almost anywhere where there is adequate moisture. Mold has been on earth for far longer than us humans and will almost certainly outlive humans as well.
Mold can be found both indoors and outdoors. Like pollen, mold can be airborne and inhaled, causing various respiratory problems as well as allergic reactions. Indoor mold, in particular, is problematic, as we are forced to inhale mold particles more often and at higher concentrations. In addition to allergic reactions, indoor mold can have more severe health consequences as well. The common areas where mold grows include the bathroom and kitchen since there is plenty of moisture in both areas. It isn’t uncommon for mold to grow on the carpet or the walls in other rooms as well, so you need to be vigilant. Often you can smell the mold, even if it’s out of sight if it is growing behind the couch or other appliances. Bed sheets are also a very common habitat for molds to grow. It’s important to remove mold aggressively when you spot it.
These are some tips to keep your house better protected from mold contamination:
- Control the humidity level in the house – air conditioners or dehumidifiers can help reduce the moisture level.
- Closely watch the moisture sources in the house – leaky roofs, pipe problems, and window panes.
- Open windows and doors more often to let fresh air in.
- Keep the bathroom clean using mold-resistant cleaning products.
- Mold can grow in unseen areas. If you have allergy symptoms that fade away when you are out, there is a good chance that you have a mold problem.
Fun fact: A common allergy trigger is the decaying body of dust mites and their feces. Throughout its short life span, a dust mite can produce over 200 times its weight in waste.4
Without dwelling too much more on the unsavory details on dust mite biology, the house dust mite primarily feeds on shed human skin or your pet’s skin. Although they require some moisture level in the air to survive, they are a hardy species and are present in most homes. According to one study, up to 84% of American households have detectable levels of dust mite allergens.5
Unfortunately, completely removing dust mites from your home is impossible, and traditional pest control methods can not control them.6 However, there are many common-sense ways to reduce their numbers, which can in turn help reduce your allergy symptoms:
- Consider purchasing a dehumidifier; dust mites require a certain level of moisture to proliferate
- Vacuum regularly, but get out of the house soon after7
- Wash the bedding more often, at least once a week
- Allergy-proof bedding may help some people
- Remove dust on tables and other appliances with a wet cloth8
- Wooden floors offer a poor environment for dust mites to live in. Relocate your bed to a room that’s not carpeted if it’s an option.
Taking measures to reduce exposure to allergens is a vital part of living with allergies. Prevention and avoidance strategies are unique to the allergen. Unfortunately, many of these allergens can’t be entirely avoided. It’s nice that most weather stations now track tree pollen, grass pollen, and ragweed pollen and warn us of allergy alert days, but the reality for most of us is that we can’t just opt out of going to work that day.
For people with severe allergies, over-the-counter drugs may not be enough. They should consult a doctor who can refer them to an allergist. This usually involves some detective work with an allergist to test for specific allergens. For most people, there are several effective ways to control allergy symptoms to get them through the day.
- Nasal steroid sprays – Reduces inflammation, controls symptoms of hayfever9
- Antihistamines – Relieves itch, sneezing, runny nose
- Decongestants – Reduces inflammation and eases breathing
- If you take allergy pills – you want to use them preventatively – as soon as you wake up if you can already sense some trouble coming ahead
Then there are preventative measures to protect your environment as best as you can:
- HEPA filter
- Masks and pollen filters
- Cleaning the house or work environment
These are not bulletproof solutions and will have varying effectiveness depending on what is causing the allergic reactions.
7Many note that vacuuming worsens their symptoms. This is because vacuuming removes surface dust and stirs up the air, which contains pollens, dust mites, and other particles. If you have severe allergies, get out of the house as soon as you’ve vacuumed for a few hours – or better, get somebody else to vacuum the area for you.
8Dry dusters often spew the dust back into the air, only to resettle after a few hours.