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Fall tough time for allergy sufferers

Published 11:37am Saturday, September 15, 2012

by Dr. Scott Stafford

The seasons don’t discriminate when it comes to allergies.

For many who suffer from seasonal allergies, fall is the worst time of year. Though the cooler weather is welcomed, the foliage is changing, and weeds and other plants release pollen that can send allergy sufferers indoors. Unfortunately, allergens can lurk there, as well.

While almost 40 million Americans suffer from allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and there is no cure, allergies can be managed with proper prevention and treatment.

Ragweed pollen is one of the most common triggers for fall allergy symptoms. This hardy plant is common in the Northeast, South and Midwest regions of the United States. Peak ragweed season starts in mid-August and lasts through October.

Ragweed pollen can cause oral allergy syndrome. You may experience itching in the mouth and throat along with mild swelling after you consume fresh fruits and vegetables such as bananas, cucumbers, melon and zucchini.

This syndrome occurs because proteins in the ragweed pollen and certain fruits or vegetables are similar in structure; therefore, your body has the same reaction to both the ragweed pollen and the food.

Pollen from other plants, trees and grass can set off allergies in the fall. Mold can grow under leaves that have fallen and this can lead to a reaction, too.


Allergy symptoms can vary, depending on the part of the body exposed to the allergen.

* Skin— Hives, dry itchy skin, eczema

* Lungs— Wheezing and asthma

* Eyes and nose— Watery, itchy eyes, clear runny mucous, sneezing

* Mouth—Itching in the back of the throat, upset stomach, diarrhea, and in extreme cases anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction)


Here are a few allergy management tips to help you get back to enjoying life, both inside and outside:

* Check pollen levels. If you live in a high pollen zone, limit your time outdoors on high pollen count days.

* Limit yard work. Have someone who is not allergic rake the leaves and mow the lawn, or wear a facemask and goggles if you must do it yourself.

* Don’t hang clothes outdoors to dry. Wet laundry attracts pollen that will eventually end up indoors.

* Stay clean. Minimize allergen exposure by washing pollen off skin and hair after spending time outside. You should also change your shoes before entering the house and change clothes inside the front door to reduce the amount of pollen and allergens you may bring in the house.

* Use a dehumidifier. Because dust mites and mold flourish in a humid environment, using a dehumidifier to remove some of the humidity from the air inside your home will help reduce indoor allergy symptoms.

* Use hypoallergenic filters. Forget the instructions on the package. Change your air conditioner filters monthly, using HEPA filters, if possible. Always place the used filter in a plastic garbage bag, then dispose of the bag outdoors.

* Use the air conditioner at night. To keep your bedroom clean and pollen free, close the windows and turn on the air conditioning. A HEPA filter system, especially during high pollen season, will help ensure you breathe purified air while you sleep.

* Take an over-the-counter antihistamine. This is an effective step, and fortunately, many such allergy drugs are now non-drowsy, long-lasting and effective.

If seasonal allergy symptoms interfere with your daily life, visit your doctor, or an ear, nose and throat specialist or allergist who can diagnose your allergy and recommend ways to manage it. An allergy test will help identify the source of your suffering and determine the right treatment to control symptoms.

Treatment may involve avoidance strategies and medications such as antihistamines, Leukotriene receptor antagonists, steroid nasal sprays, decongestants, or immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots).

If you’re a fall allergy sufferer, there’s little reason to dread the arrival of autumn. Knowing how to reduce your exposure to mold and pollen can make all the difference.

Learn more at Click on the “Health Resources” and search “Fall Allergies” to read informative articles, such as “Avoiding Fall Allergy Triggers,” as well as to take a “Seasonal Allergy Quiz.”

Dr. Scott Stafford received his medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville and completed his otolaryngology training at Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland. He can be contacted at 562- 6673. 

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