Living in the beautiful Southwest, we are lucky to enjoy a fall season that brings moderate temperatures and a well-deserved change from the overwhelming heat. For many, the change in weather also brings an increase in allergy symptoms. Not just reserved for the springtime, fall allergies can put a serious damper on enjoying the outdoors. Today we’ll share some common causes, symptoms, and treatments of fall allergies in the Southwest.
In most parts of the country, the cold weather leads to plant dormancy, providing some relief for allergy sufferers. Because the weather is warmer in the Southwest, plants are able to release their pollen virtually through the entire year, with many plants releasing their pollen once the oppressing heat subsides.
Families like desert ragweed, wingscale, white mulberry, Russian thistle, amaranth, pigweed, waterhemp, lamb’s quarters, grasses, and chenopod weeds, are all common culprits of seasonal allergies. Add to that windier conditions as the seasons change which lead to an increase in dust (and allergens) in the air. Potentially in the mix is also smoke from wildfires that often occur over the hot summertime. Considering all these potential allergens may be swirling around the air in the fall, it is no wonder that many people begin to suffer from the unforgiving symptoms of allergies.
This year, many people are also spending much more time indoors where other factors like mold, chemicals found in household items and cleaners, dust, even insects sometimes found indoors (like cockroaches) can leave air pollution. The trouble with indoor allergens is that you may not be able to see what is leading to your symptoms; while dust can often be overcome with regular cleaning, mold that results from a sneaky leak in the wall or undetected insect infestation may lead you to scratch your head about why you suddenly are experience less-than-ideal symptoms. Consider having an air filter in your home and/or add some of these house plants to help combat indoor air pollution.
While individual sensitivities dictate symptoms, some commonly experienced are:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes and nose
- Dark circles under the eyes
Some people that have medical conditions like asthma, may find that they wheeze when exposed to allergens. Headaches are also a common symptom, partially attributed to allergens as well as the change in barometric pressure as the seasons change.
Next week, we’ll also share how you can distinguish between allergy symptoms and those of COVID-19; many are similar.
Treating allergies typically requires several steps be taken. You’ll want to approach this attack on your symptoms from the inside of your home, moving on outward.
Ensure the inside of your home is allergen free
A routine of removing allergens from your home may take a pronged approach.
Daily: Keep clothing you’ve worn outside in a separate area. If you’ve spent prolonged time outdoors, shower to remove allergens from your skin and hair- this will also keep allergens off your furniture and bedding. Also keep doors and windows closed to prevent allergens from even getting in.
Weekly: Dust furniture, vacuum rugs and carpets, wash bedding
Monthly: Change HVAC filters. Consider investing in electrostatic air filters that can capture up to 98% of airborne particles. Regardless of the type of filter you use, they only work at their maximum efficiency if you maintain the filter; set a reminder and make it a part of your routine.
Seasonal: Partner with an HVAC expert to ensure heaters and cooling units are working properly. If they are sucking in air from outside or not venting correctly, not only can this be dangerous, but also increase your exposure to allergens.
If you find that you struggle with allergy symptoms around bedtime and can’t get a good night’s sleep, add a portable air filter into your room for a second layer of filtration.
As we shared last week, indoor plants have been proven to improve air quality (drastically!) and can also positively impact your mental health. Only three minutes of caring for and interacting with a plant can decrease your heart rate, helping give you a moment of relaxation.
If possible, plan your outside activities around days that may have better air quality. Check the local weather for allergen levels and plan accordingly. Allergen levels are at their highest early in the morning, so if you can, wait until later in the day to head outside. These days wearing a mask while out and about is a foregone conclusion- and wearing it can also help keep allergy symptoms at bay. Make sure to wash or replace masks daily to prevent exposure to allergens or other contaminants.
Partner with your healthcare provider
If allergy symptoms are unbearable and preventative measures aren’t making enough of a difference, speak to your provider about what else can be done. Clear any medicines before using, including over the counter ones. They may not be appropriate with certain medications like blood thinners. Certain medical conditions like hypertension, prostate issues, and dry eyes may also mean you have to avoid or limit some options.
- Oral antihistamines: Antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, a runny nose and watery eyes. Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra are a few name-brand options.
- Decongestants: Oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness. Avoid using nasal decongestants long-term as they can actually lead to “rebound congestion”, making things worse.
- Combination medications: Some allergy medications combine an antihistamine with a decongestant. Examples include loratadine-pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D) and fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D).
- Nasal sprays: There are numerous prescription and over the counter sprays (Flonase, astelin) that aid in decreasing nasal, ophthalmic and sinus mucosal inflammation as well as other allergy complaints.
- Oral agents: These use a different pathway to decrease allergic responses than antihistamines, but can be just as effective (one option is Singulair).
- Steroids: If the allergy symptoms are severe enough, your provider may recommend steroids.
With a little bit of planning, a routine, and guidance from your healthcare provider, allergy season doesn’t have to be something to dread. You can still enjoy the beautiful weather and all the beauty of the outdoors with just a few steps. Next Monday, we’ll help you sort through how to distinguish between seasonal allergies and COVID-19 symptoms. It’s not always easy, as many symptoms are the same.