As the summer draws to a close and the school year nears, you may find yourself with tears in your eyes. But it’s not for sentimental reasons. It’s because mid-to-late August is also when fall allergy season starts in earnest. Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, can cause nagging and debilitating symptoms like nasal congestion, watery and itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, and dry cough.
If you are among the 24 million people in the U.S. who suffer from allergies, now is the time to start with precautionary measures. Don’t wait until your nose is running and your eyes are itchy and red.
Here’s what you need to know to see — and smell — your way through the worst of the fall allergy season. Learn more about the causes of hay fever and what prevention tips and strategies can help ease your discomfort.
Common fall allergies
Weed pollen is the most common fall allergy, according to Adam Williams, MD, who specializes in allergy and immunology at Summit Health Oregon. Sagebrush and Russian thistle (tumbleweed) are the two most common plants that produce pollen during the fall allergy season in Central Oregon.
Non-allergic triggers can also cause allergy-like symptoms in the fall. Exposure to wildfire smoke and weather changes, including cooler temperatures and wetter conditions, can lead to watery eyes and dry coughs.
Dr. Williams says there is one piece of good news for allergy sufferers. “Central Oregon is fortunate not to have as many problems with fall allergens like ragweed, dust mites, and molds,” he explains. “These allergens are present in many other parts of the country.”
Symptoms of fall allergies
Allergic reactions to environmental triggers mimic those of cold viruses. Unlike colds, symptoms of hay fever and fall allergies remain steady instead of peaking and then clearing up. They include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Dry, persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
Best ways to prepare for allergy season
First, know what your main allergies are. Many patients know they’re symptomatic at certain times of the year, but they don’t know what their specific triggers are because they’ve never been tested. Allergists like Dr. Williams use a skin prick test — that exposes you to small amounts of common allergens — to find out what your body is allergic to.
Then, you can use that information to help you prevent symptoms. For example, knowing when the pollen you are allergic to tends to be present in the air, can help you determine when you may need your allergy medication or alter your activity to minimize your symptoms.
The most effective medications for allergies are now available over the counter and include oral antihistamines, eye drops, and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays. People with severe allergies may also take prescription medication. Follow the treatment plan recommended by your physician.
“Whatever your regimen is, we suggest you start in advance and continue throughout the season,” says Dr. Williams. “If that doesn’t help, make an appointment with an allergist and get tested. There are many prescription medications available as well. You do not need to suffer during the allergy season.”
For people with severe symptoms, allergy shots are a more long-term treatment option that can help desensitize the body to specific allergens. The shots, which are initially administered weekly and then extended to monthly injections, contain a tiny amount of the allergen the patient is reacting to. The repeated exposure teaches the body to tolerate the allergen.