As much as 30% of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis – that’s the medical terms for hay fever. Yet, while we associate hay fever with spring blossoms, in fact, ragweed, a late summer and fall pollinator, affects around 32 million Americans yearly!
According to Dr. Jay Portnoy, who works as an allergist-immunologist in Kansas City, “The most common fall allergy is ragweed, which pollinates from August 15 to early October through most of the United States and parts of Europe.”
The increased number of warm days and warm nights over the last few decades have been causing ragweed to release its pollen well into November, making millions of allergy sufferers sneeze, itch, and cough until the winter. Because ragweed pollen can travel for hundreds of miles, it affects even people who don’t live in places where it grows, and the allergy symptoms it causes may also be triggered by certain fruits and vegetables.
Besides ragweed, mold is another common fall allergy trigger. Mold spores love the relatively hot, damp environment created by piles of leaves on the ground, and even the gentlest breeze can carry them across vast distances. High mold counts in the air make life difficult for those with asthma, and it’s not easy to hide from them.
Last but not least, dust mites enjoy the lack of ventilation and the hot air from central heating systems in the fall. It doesn’t take long for their population numbers to get out of control, which is when sneezes, wheezes, and runny noses start to happen.
Can we prevent allergies from happening in the first place?
Possibly. There’s a lot of research around this, and there’s a concept called the “hygiene hypothesis,” which argues children should be brought up around some degree of dirt and germs. It’s thought that being exposed to a lot of other children, as well as farm animals, and not washing too often, can strengthen a child’s immune system because it works outward, fighting off viruses and getting a “healthy workout,” as Ronald Saff, M.D., Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology puts it.
The easier alternatives
- Avoid wooded areas.
- Think about buying a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. These filter systems are very good at removing allergens from the air indoors.
- Antihistamines are an effective short-term allergy prevention strategy, while decongestants can be used to relieve nasal congestion in the upper respiratory tract. However, neither antihistamines nor decongestants are suitable for long-term allergy relief as they may cause your blood pressure to rise and your heartbeat to accelerate, just to name two common side effects.
Christmas season provides nearly the entire U.S. with another blessing: there are very few outdoor allergens in the environment. However, as soon as the calendar flips to a new year, the cycle starts all over again.