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We all wish that a leisurely stroll through the beautiful autumn foliage would not produces a violent episode of sneezing associated with a stuffy nose or that a picnic in midst of beautiful spring flowers would not trigger an asthma attack in your two year old. Allergy symptoms can have a significant impact on our quality of life and these symptoms are not isolated to the spring and fall. Unfortunately, there are four seasons, and each affects allergy sufferers differently.
What allergies are affecting us this fall?
Ragweed Pollen- Possibly the largest single seasonal allergen in North America. About 75% of people who are allergic to spring plants are also affected by Ragweed. Because of extreme weather, there have been higher Ragweed pollen counts in recent years. Even if Ragweed isn’t common in your area, it’s pollen can travel hundreds of miles through the air.
Mold- Mold is a common trigger for fall allergies; it thrives in moist, damp indoor and outdoor environments. Mold spores reproduce in the air and are difficult to avoid.
Dust Mites- Perhaps the most common cause of recurrent allergies, they can trigger symptoms symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose and itchy eyes. In children and adults who are sensitive they can make you more prone to colds, flu and sinus infections. Dust mite allergies occur year-round, but may be more frequent in the winter months when you spend more time indoors. You can reduce your exposure at home by keeping humidity low and cleaning and vacuuming frequently.
School Allergens- Kids in school are often exposed to classroom irritants and allergy triggers like chalk dust and classroom pets. Students with food allergies can be exposed to allergens at lunch. Cleaning products with harsh chemicals may trigger allergy and asthma symptoms as well. If your child is exhibiting allergy symptoms at school, meet with their teacher and/or the schools nurse to address ways to decrease your child’s exposure in the classroom.
Do I have Allergies or a Cold?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between allergies and a regular cold. Your first thought when you start sneezing is probably that it’s a cold. Here’s how to tell the difference between allergies and the common cold.
Colds are caused by viruses and are spread through coughing and sneezing. While the symptoms and severity of a cold can vary, they generally have the same characteristics (i.e. coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny, stuffy nose). You can catch a cold at any time of the year, and it’s normal to have at least two colds every year. You likely don’t need to see your doctor if your symptoms are not severe. Treat your cold with over the counter medications such as decongestants and saline nose spray. Drink plenty of water based fluids, and get as much rest as possible. Most colds run their course in 7-10 days. If you’re not improved or your symptoms are worsening after a week, or if you develop a high fever or severe cough, a visit to your doctor is warranted.
Allergies occur when your immune system has an adverse reaction to certain substances. When you’re exposed to an allergy trigger, your immune system releases chemicals called Histamines, which cause allergy symptoms. Allergies and colds share some common symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing and runny nose. More commonly, the nasal discharge with allergies is clear while the nasal discharge from a cold may be discolored. Patients with sinus infections have yellow, green or thick white discharge that is not improving over a weeks duration.
Allergy symptoms can have a seasonal variation with peak symptoms occurring in the spring and fall. In the Northeast peak allergy season runs from mid March until early June. Allergens start to flare again the third week in August until November. I advise my patients to continue allergy medication in the fall until it has been 40 degrees or less in the evening for at least 3 nights.
In addition to seasonal allergies many people are allergic to specific substances which are present year round. The most common year round allergies are dust and mold. These allergies may become more symptomatic during the winter season when our windows are closed and heating systems have been activated. Combat these indoor allergens by meticulous cleaning. Change your air conditioner filters twice a year. Vacuum and dust and limit under-bed storage if you are an indoor allergy sufferer. Stuffed animals are big dust collectors. Gather up all your child’s stuffed animals from the shelves and floor and store them in a plastic bag or bin in the closet. A few cherished stuffed animals may stay on the bed but they should be washed every two weeks in hot water or placed in the dryer on hot for at least an hour. Make sure that your bed and your children beds are free from down and feathers and flip your mattress once per year. If you want to obtain more information about allergies, you may need to see your primary care physician, an ENT (Ear-Nose-Throat) specialist, or an allergist. Either blood or skin testing can be performed to obtain more information on what you or your child may be specifically allergic to. This information is useful in that in that it is possible to prevent allergy symptoms by avoiding your triggers. If symptoms develop, over the counter as well as prescription medications are available to mitigate these symptoms.
If you are concerned about allergies this fall, here are a few tips:
Allergy symptoms can be managed with environmental measures in your home as well as the use of over the counter medications. If your symptoms persist or are not relieved by over the counter medications please contact your health care provider for a full evaluation.
If you suffer in the spring and fall be sure to check out the pollen and mold counts before you go outside on https://www.pollen.com/. If the counts are elevated and you are experiencing symptoms, take over the counter medication and use frequent saline nasal spray to rinse the allergens from your nose.
Keep doors and windows closed when your allergens are abundant, and Consider the use of an air purification systems in your bedroom or office to reduce your allergen exposure.
Vacuum and dust at least once a week and limit large pillows, draperies, books and paper in your bedroom that can collect dust.
Use allergy proof covers and bedding, and wash your sheets at least once a week.
Use saline nose spray as frequently as possible to clear allergens from your nose as well as your child’s nose.
If environmental measures are ineffective in combating you or your child’s symptoms consider the use of over the counter medications. If you continue to suffer a visit to your health care provider is warranted.
Don’t let allergy symptoms keep you locked up in doors. Institute environmental measures in your home, get information about what allergens are flaring in your neighborhood and treat them accordingly. Let your health care provider be an asset as you find ways to minimize your symptoms during peak allergy season.
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