It’s not hard to know when pollen starts to fill the air in the fall. Your nose and head are probably the first to warn you of the dying trees and resulting pollen and other debris in the air. Fall allergy season starts as soon as the weather begins to cool just enough for the leaves to start falling from the trees.
Some common symptoms of fall allergies are sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, and congestion. However, if you start using your medications early you’re less likely to suffer these symptoms!
There are three main kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) medications used to help control seasonal allergies: topical nasal sprays and inhalants; oral antihistamines; and decongestants.
If you have mild seasonal allergies, nasal sprays and inhalants and oral OTC antihistamines should work effectively. While antihistamines may not be addictive, they can lose some of their effectiveness over a few months.
If your symptoms are not being controlled, consider switching brands periodically. Unless you want to be sleepy all day, consider those that say “non-sedating” on the label (unless you’re planning to go straight to bed after taking them)!
Nasal decongestants should be taken on a short-term basis only. You can get a rebound effect, or the return of the symptoms because the medicine no longer affects your body, if you use them for more than a week.
Always remember to talk to your doctor about possible side effects of medicines. For example, oral decongestants can cause significant side effects, including an elevation in blood pressure, nervousness, and sometimes heart palpitations. Talk to your doctor first before trying them.
It’s not only about medication. If you’re going to be working outside, consider wearing a protective allergy face mask for tasks like mowing the grass, raking leaves, or washing the car. Depending on the severity of your allergies, you can use a simple disposable paper mask or a more long-lasting “respirator mask” with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Also, keep an eye on pollen counts – try to do your outdoor work on days when pollen counts are low.
To minimize the allergens circulating throughout your house, get a high-efficiency furnace filter (MERV level 11 or 12), and be sure to change it every spring and early summer. You can also cut down on circulating allergens by using a HEPA filter on your vacuum and getting a HEPA air filter. Stay away from vaporizers and humidifiers, which can increase the humidity in your home and lead to mold and dust mite problems.
An allergist will help you determine precisely what you’re allergic to by discussing your symptoms and doing skin tests. Allergists can also test for antibodies in your blood that can signal the presence of allergies.
Those with moderate to severe allergies may benefit from allergy shots. These work by exposing the immune system to small amounts of an allergen. Over time and in increasingly larger doses, the body learns not to see it as a foreign invader and develops a tolerance to it.
Once you reach the maintenance level with allergy shots – that is, you’ve built up a tolerance to your allergens, and your symptoms have become minimal – your allergist will gradually decrease the frequency of your injections. Ultimately, you’ll need them only once every month or so throughout the year, and after a few years you may not need them at all.
Be prepared for your summer allergies! Your body will thank you for it!