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If it seems like your sniffling, sneezing, and suffering never ends, it may come as no surprise that every season is allergy season. The onset of your stuffy nose, watery eyes, and fatigue could come in Spring or Fall, depending on what you are allergic to and where you live. And if you spend all year in a warm climate where things are constantly blooming, you might suffer from “seasonal” allergies year-round.
It is important to find out precisely what you are allergic to if you are going to try to prevent or treat allergy symptoms. And while you might be able to figure it out based on when your symptoms are the worst, it is a good idea to see a doctor just to be sure. An allergy specialist can help determine your triggers through medical history, skin tests, or blood tests.
As the weather changes and seasons come later or earlier than expected, it is also useful to know your specific triggers. That way, you can monitor things like pollen counts or ragweed growth specifically rather than trying to predict the onset of allergies by month.
Here are some traditional triggers of seasonal allergies that can help you narrow down your personal allergy profile.
There are three main causes of spring allergies: tree pollen, grass pollen, and mold.
While Spring technically lasts three months from late March to late June in the U.S., that is simply the calendar version of the season. In reality, those dates only roughly correspond to the temperature outside. That is why the onset of your “Spring allergies” might occur much earlier in the year (and last much longer). For example, if you live in Texas, elm trees might start to bloom and release their pollen in February, setting off your immune system while it is still technically Winter.
As we begin to experience warmer temperatures all over the world, we are also starting to see less “downtime” for trees, plants, and flowers. That means they are dormant for shorter periods and therefore release the pollen that triggers our allergies for a longer period of time. So, if you feel like your allergies are lasting several weeks longer than they have in the past, you are probably right.
Tree pollen is the trigger for the majority of Spring allergies. While trees - such as birch, hickory, cedar, cypress, poplar, and walnut - are dormant in the colder months and conserve energy for their growth season, warm temperatures encourage them to “wake up.” When that happens, they release pollen spores that can travel through the air for miles. While you can avoid close contact to reduce your allergy symptoms, you should know that you can be allergic to tree pollen even if you do not have any trees nearby.
Grass pollen works in much the same way. Most grass is dormant in the cooler months, then “wakes up” and emits pollen when the weather warms up. And since we have introduced a variety of grasses into our local ecosystems, these allergies can last months, causing your runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing, asthma, and itchy, watery, red eyes to plague you from early Spring through late Fall.
While we do not think of mold as a possible allergy trigger in Spring – nor do we typically consider it an outdoor phenomenon – it is important to remember that in places with snow and frost, you are bound to have tree leaves and other detritus thawing out. The moisture allows these tiny fungi to grow in the piles of leaves leftover from the Fall, as well as in soil, rotting wood, and other damp places. Like pollen, mold spores can become airborne once the weather warms up, and these can add another layer of complexity to seasonal allergies. You are likely to stir them up while doing spring and summer yard work.
If you or your children are allergic to mold, you will want to protect yourself while doing Spring yardwork with a mask. And as fun as those piles of leaves will look, jumping into them can stir up allergens that can easily be tracked into your home after yardwork or playtime.
Pollen and mold are the most common seasonal allergy triggers in summer as well, though the pollen tends to come from grasses and weeds rather than trees later in the year.
Grass pollen allergies are also referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis or “hay fever,” despite having nothing to do with hay. While you might not be an expert when it comes to identifying grasses, Bermuda Grass, Johnson Grass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Orchard Grass, Red Top Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, and Timothy Grass are some of the most common culprits. But the truth is, there are hundreds of types of grasses that could be contributing to your seasonal allergy symptoms, and they are not just lawn grasses but ornamental grasses as well.
As for weeds, ragweed is the most common culprit for allergy sufferers. Because there are 17 different species of ragweed alone, it grows all over the country late in the summer and into early Fall. If your allergies tend to strike in August and September, that is a good indication that ragweed is one of your triggers. Other common weeds that produce copious amounts of pollen include cockleweed, pigweed, sagebrush, Russian thistle, lamb’s quarters, and tumbleweed.
The good news is that you can have an allergist tell you precisely which grasses and weeds you are allergic to and do your best to avoid them in your own yard. But, unfortunately, their pollen can be carried on the wind for miles and it is too small to be seen.
Being aware of what makes pollen allergies worse can help you avoid severe symptoms. For example, dry, windy summer days are more likely to carry the microscopic particles far and wide, so you will want to think about what outdoor activities to partake in on those days and perhaps save strenuous activity for cooler, damper days. Pollen counts are also higher in the mornings.
Having an unmowed lawn or ornamental grasses can also make allergies worse. Longer grass that develops a feathery top is more likely to release pollen, so you will want to avoid planting it or letting your lawn get out of control. But the grasses listed above release pollen even when kept short.
While you do not want to stay cooped up on a beautiful summer day, you might consider closing your windows on breezy or windy days or wearing a mask if you are doing yardwork around allergy-triggering grasses. If you use air conditioning on those days, installing a high-efficiency particulate air (or HEPA) filter will help keep pollen outside of your home. If your budget allows, you might even consider removing and replacing grass you are allergic to. But it is important to get an allergy test to be sure you have identified the correct culprit.
Allergy seasons are getting worse, with many people suffering from allergy symptoms well into Fall.
If you are still suffering from seasonal allergies in September and October (or in warmer areas, even into November), it is likely because ragweed pollen and molds are still lurking. Dust mites are also common as we close up our homes and turn on the heat for the first time.
As we experience longer summers and the continuation of warm weather into the Fall months – sometimes called “Indian summer” – we can expect to see much longer allergy seasons as well. Ragweed will continue to grow until the weather cools off. If you live in a warm place like Florida, ragweed season can last well into December.
In Fall, when warm air is combined with rain, mold spores thrive, especially in newly fallen leaves. Keeping up with yard work is important in order to deprive mold of a place to grow, but allergy sufferers should also be careful when raking leaves.
In order to protect yourself from stirred up mold while working in the yard, it is wise to invest in a NIOSH-approved N95 mask that is designed to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles. NIOSH stands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the N95 mask is recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for everything from allergy to flu prevention. These masks are easy to find, labeled clearly with their NIOSH rating, and cost just a few dollars more than your typical face mask. A package of between 5 and 10 masks can easily be purchased for under $20. They are, however, more difficult to breathe through than a typical face mask, so you may need to take breaks more often if you are performing strenuous tasks while wearing one.
Winter is supposed to be the one season we get a break from our seasonal allergies, but if you live in a warm climate where grasses are still growing (and releasing pollen) in December or you are allergic to dander, dust mites, or mold, you might not get a reprieve from allergy season. Winter is also the time when it is most crucial to distinguish allergy symptoms from cold and flu symptoms so you can treat yourself effectively.
If you are suffering from allergies when there is no more pollen outside, chances are your allergies are coming from inside your home, your workplace, or even your child’s school. When we close up our windows for the season and turn on the heat, we create warm, dry air - the perfect conditions for allergens to become airborne.
One of the main culprits when it comes to winter or chronic allergies are our furry friends, who are now spending a lot more time indoors. Pet dander is the dead skin flakes that animals shed. While many people think they are allergic to animal fur, you have likely noticed that you and your family may still have symptoms even after cleaning up pet hair. Meanwhile, the microscopic skin flakes still lurk in furniture, carpets, clothing, and bedding.
If your pet is a part of your family that you would never consider re-homing, you can take preventative measures to reduce symptoms by talking to your doctor about allergy shots or pills. But you can also make things much easier on yourself and your family by keeping pets off furniture – especially the bed – and washing blankets and bedding more frequently in hot water.
Another reason to keep your home clean is that it will simultaneously eliminate dust mites. The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America estimates that these microscopic bugs that live inside dust are the most common cause of chronic allergies. The parasites feed on the dead skin cells that we are constantly shedding. They thrive in bedding, carpeting, and upholstered furniture and are just as common in schools and the workplace as they are in your home.
If you do not have a pet but have symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose combined with wheezing, dust mites are a likely culprit. Because they are commonly found in beds, you may notice that your symptoms are worse in the morning after you have spent hours breathing them in. Washing your linens and using a protective cover on mattresses and pillows can help keep them at bay. It is also helpful to eliminate the number of rugs or to reduce the amount of carpeting in your home.
Winter is also the time when indoor molds and mildew cause problems. While turning on the heat results in dry air and humidifiers can be an important remedy, too much moisture gives mold the perfect conditions in which to thrive. If your home has water damage of any kind, it is also more susceptible to mold growth.
Using dehumidifiers in damp basements and bathrooms can help; then you can reserve your humidifiers for rooms that are naturally dry, like bedrooms.
While seasonal allergies can have you dreading certain times of the year, there are things you can do to prevent and treat your symptoms. It is crucial to identify your triggers and get a doctor’s advice on medicinal treatments such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, decongestants, or even immunotherapy. But you can also take matters into your own hands by avoiding your triggers.
https://www.aafa.org/types-of-allergies/ (and many of the links from the page)
https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/public_health.html (and the links from this page)
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/tag/allergies/ (and the links from this page)
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