THE BLOG

Feeling Sick? It May Be Fall Allergies

10/01/2013 04:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Despite common thought, spring isn't the only allergy-prone season. As the weather begins to change and fall settles in, many may find themselves experiencing allergies as bad as those they experienced during the spring, and possibly worse. Many people experience symptoms of nasal congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose and coughing and think they have a cold, when in reality allergies are to blame. That's because allergens, like ragweed pollen, boost in numbers inflaming allergic reactions. A recent report showed that this fall is likely to be one for the records for allergy sufferers. The best way to live healthier this fall is to prepare and take preventative steps to irritating your allergies. This includes:

Cold vs. Allergy: Know the Difference
A cold is generally caused by a virus that affects the upper respiratory tract, whereas allergies are the body's adverse immune response to a protein. For those who feel like they regularly get a cold during the fall season, allergies could likely be the culprit. Prolonged cold symptoms could also indicate that allergies are the underlying reason for not feeling well. Determining that allergies are at the root of feeling ill will allow for better approach to treatment and prevention.

Identify the Triggers
Fall allergies are predominately ruled by ragweed, along with other weed pollens. In New York City, ragweed becomes prominent by the middle of August and remains until November. This is often the No. 1 culprit of seasonal allergies, with upwards of 20 percent of Americans allergic to ragweed, according to a recent report. In addition, mold becomes fairly prominent during the autumn months. While rain may help minimize pollen levels by cleansing the air, it conversely brings about particular molds. Outdoor molds regularly grow on leaves and grass and thrive in moisture that comes about in the fall months.

Take Action: Remedies
Even when susceptible to these allergy triggers, there are steps to take to minimize, and possibly eliminate, any allergic reactions. For example, cleaning up piles of wet leaves will eliminate a breeding ground for mold. When outside, consider wearing a mask when doing yard work and always be sure to change your clothes and wash your hands and face once you return inside. Indoor humidity levels should be maintained between 35 percent and 50 percent. And, don't overlook air quality: remember to clean or regularly chance you're A/C filters and consider using a HEPA air purifier.

Information Is the Best Defense
Information is the best defense against seasonal allergies. Modern technologies have allowed instant access to educational materials to help combat potential allergic reactions. The LeafSnap phone application, for example, is a great way to identify potential triggers. Developed by the University of Maryland, Smithsonian Institute and Columbia University, the app uses a proprietary database that can determine the type of tree just by taking a photograph of a leaf. This app will help you learn to recognize what trees you are allergic to so that you can try to avoid sitting under one during a weekend picnic. And when all else fails, there are remedies that can be provided by an allergist like over the counter and prescription medications, which are a temporary solution, or more long term remedies like allergy shots.

Seasonal allergies, although prominent this fall, don't need to put a damper on your health. Small actions and a bit of education can go a long way in the fight against allergies.

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For more by Julie Kuriakose, M.D., click here.