The days of pumpkin spice and apple picking are here, but you can’t stop sniffling and sneezing (and googling whether your symptoms match up with the flu or COVID-19.). We might think that fall should offer us a reprieve from the bursting blooms of spring and the sinus crud that often comes in with winter. However, according to Clifford Bassett, MD, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, fall is actually (and unfortunately) quite a fertile time for allergies.
Blame it on the ragweed. “In most areas of the country, [fall] is a time of change [with] hot and humid weather easing into the cooler and drier area for the most part of the fall season,” Dr. Bassett tells SheKnows. “That generally means ragweed pollen — one of the more prolific pollen producers, as one single plant may produce billions of grains — [and] weed pollen, as well as a variety of outdoor and indoor mold spores.”
The signs and symptoms of autumn allergies aren’t much different from the sneezy, sniffling, bleary-eyed, frog-throated agonies of spring allergies, since the pollen and ragweed still trigger the immune system flare-up that releases chemicals like histamines, which cause inflammation and discomfort. But there are apples to be picked, haunted houses to run through, and jackets to be modeled. So what can you do to stay sneeze-free, or at least minimize your allergies’ impact on your daily life?
Treating Fall Allergies: When to See an Allergist
“Your best defense is a good offense,” says Bassett. He’s referring to an allergist. Many people just try to handle their seasonal allergies on their own, but going to a doctor and getting a formal allergy test can pinpoint the true cause of your symptoms. From there, you and your physician can develop a customized game plan that may include taking an over-the-counter nasal steroid medicine or oral antihistamines, Bassett says, which can offer more effective relief than over-the-counter meds.
Treating Fall Allergies: Closing the Windows and Watching the Pollen Count
You can also track the pollen count — many weather apps and sites include it in the forecast. On extremely high-pollen count days, consider skipping that outdoor hike and hitting the indoor treadmill instead.
Another way to keep the outside from coming inside? It’s simple but effective: close your windows. While it’s delightful to open the windows on a cool Sunday morning, it also means letting in the pollen along with that ephemerally crisp smell of autumn air. Keep the windows shut when you can, especially on high-pollen count days. On the still-warm days when you’ve got to run the AC, put it on recirculate and clean out the air filters on the regular.
Treating Fall Allergies: Get Clean and Cover Up
Make sure to shower and wash your hair at night (especially if you’ve been outdoors during the day) so you’re pollen-free while you’re sleeping. Bassett also recommends using a saline nasal wash to keep your sinuses clean and irrigated.
When you do go out, cover up to protect yourself against pollen and ragweed. Bassett says that wearing sunglasses (especially on windy days) and hats can keep these nasty allergens out of your eyes and hair.
Don’t let allergies keep you away from the joys of the fall — after all, those Halloween treats aren’t gonna eat themselves. Building a plan with your physician and employing a few common-sense steps can make the difference between sneezing through the season and getting your pumpkin spice on for a long time to come.
A version of this story was published October 2019.
Before you go, check out the natural products we recommend for soothing your kid’s cold symptoms: