While spring seems to get most of the attention in terms of seasonal allergies, fall presents unique challenges for allergy sufferers due to specific allergens that make the autumn months extra special. From pollen to mold spores, this seasonal transition is often the firm reminder that summer is over. So what fall allergies get us down, and how can we fight back until our winter break arrives?
Fall Allergy Triple Threat - Ragweed
The most common allergen during the late summer/early fall months is ragweed. There is nothing positive about ragweed. Even the name, rag & weed, fails to conjure up anything remotely positive. Ragweed is actually a very broad name. There are 41 different species of plants that are called ragweed. Personally, I have not met each of them, but I have my doubts that any is more savory than another.
Ragweed prefers sunny, dry conditions, and with drought conditions gripping much of the nation, this season is a veritable ragweed festival. When conditions are right, a single ragweed plant will spew out roughly 1,000,000,000 granules of pollen. This is highly problematic for two reasons. First, ragweed is highly allergenic, and of all the allergic pollens, ragweed is the number one contender. Secondly, ragweed is a wind pollinator. Instead of relying on insects and birds to cross pollinate, ragweed has evolved to produce very light grains of pollen that can easily be carried by the wind.
So we have a highly allergic plant spewing out copious amounts of very light pollen that the wind can literally carry for miles and miles. Pleasant.
Mold Loves Fall
Mold loves the fall, as all the dead leaves provide them ample food to grow and produce spores. Mold spores are very light and easily carried by the air. Each autumn you will see an increase in mold spores in the mid to late fall (as leaves are falling but before the first frost). Even over the course of a single day mold spore counts in the air will spike during the warmer, daylight hours (warmer air circulates better and thus circulates mold spores).
Juniper and Cedar Allergies
As a regional allergen, Juniper can be troublesome for many allergy sufferers. Ashe Juniper (Mountain or Post Cedar) and Eastern Juniper (Red Cedar) are two of the biggest culprits when it comes to cedar/juniper allergies. Ashe Juniper is generally more potent, in terms of allergies, and starts as fall fades in to winter. Eastern Juniper follows about a month later. So while these allergens affect fewer people and later in the year, they can combine to form several months of misery for some.
Spring brings a wide variety of allergens, but fall only invites a few. Unfortunately, those few are heavy hitters that can even give the champ a run for his money. So how can you fight back and not let the three ruin your fall?
Fight Back Against Fall Allergens
Most people cannot simply arrange their schedule to accommodate staying indoors during the daylight hours. When going out to exercise, mow the yard, rake leaves or just take the dog for a walk, a mask can help to remove most, if not all, of the pollen you would normally breathe in. In a variety of styles and sizes, allergy masks offer an effective way to filter ragweed and juniper pollen as well as mold spores and any other particles in the air. Some are disposable while others are washable and have replaceable filters.
Another simple way to avoid fall pollen is to keep your windows closed. When fall rolls around and the temperatures dip, it can be very tempting to open the windows and let in a brisk, fall breeze. For allergy sufferers this is one of the worst things you can do. If you do keep your windows open, consider a window filter. Although they do cut down on air flow, they filter the vast majority of the pollen and other particles in the air.
Also, be sure to replace your furnace/HVAC filter. Electrostatic filters are fantastic at removing particles, but after three months, they generally lose much of their filtering ability. Replace them regularly to keep the air in your home free of allergens.
For those who are particularly sensitive, there are a few additional measures you can take to prevent bringing allergens into your home. Take your shoes off at the door. Though you often can see pollen, it coats everything outdoors and sticks to your shoes as well as your clothing. Depending on your sensitivity, you may even consider changing your clothing and washing the allergens from your hair.
In your bedroom there are several steps you can take to improve your indoor air quality. An efficient HEPA air purifier will not only trap pollen and mold spores but also dust mite allergen, dust, and other irritants in your home. A humidifier can also be very handy during cooler, drier fall months. Very dry air allows for allergens to freely disperse through your home. A more normal humidity level (45-50%) can allow for these same allergens to clump and settle to the floor.
Once on the floor, an effective HEPA filtered vacuum can handle the rest. A sealed system model with certified HEPA filtration can remove ultra fine particles that cause allergic reactions. If you already have a suitable vacuum, check and replace worn or old filters and bags.
Lastly, there are always a variety of OTC medications that can help relieve symptoms. While none of these will prevent your reactions, they can help to alleviate the puffy, itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion, and swelling that is often associated with seasonal allergies like hay fever.
By taking a few simple precautions and making small preparations you can knock out this trio of fall allergens before they make this an autumn to forget!
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