How to Avoid the Most Common Fall Allergy Triggers

How to Avoid the Most Common Fall Allergy Triggers

From pollen to lesser-known culprits—learn how to stop pesky fall allergens in their tracks.

As summer gives way to fall and the days get shorter, chillier and more hectic, many of us brace for irritating fall allergy symptoms. In fact, from late August until the first hard frost, about 20 percent of people experience fall seasonal allergies, and the unrelenting coughing and sneezing that go with it. 

Your immune system is designed to protect your body against invading organisms that can make you sick. But when you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes an allergen—normally a harmless substance—for an invader, which causes symptoms like sneezing, red or itchy eyes, itchy ears, a runny nose and a hoarse, itchy or sore throat. 

You don’t have to spend autumn in a haze. If you tend to develop these bothersome symptoms each fall, you can take steps to prevent or ease your seasonal misery. 

Identify fall allergens 
The first step is to identify the fall allergens that trigger your itchiness, congestion and other fall allergy symptoms.  

Weeds: These are some of the worst offenders. People can experience allergy symptoms all year long, but certain allergens are abundant at different times. "[Fall] allergies are due in a large part to ragweed and other similar weed pollens,” says Mark Schecker, MD, an allergist at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

As many as 23 million Americans have seasonal allergic rhinitis or “hay fever,” which may be triggered by ragweed pollen. This fine dust can be released by 17 different types of ragweed and is carried by wind, meaning that every breath you take could trigger a reaction. Ragweed grows from August to November, peaking in the middle of September. 

Less common weeds like goldenrod, curly dock, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, sheep sorrel and sagebrush can also set off seasonal allergy symptoms. 

Mold: This fungus is another leading allergy trigger. Mold can lurk in bathrooms, air vents, garbage cans and other parts of your home, triggering allergy symptoms any time of the year. But outdoor mold spores, which spread through the air, are especially plentiful during the fall.  

Spores set up shop in piles of leaves, foliage-filled gutters and other damp areas that provide the food, air, temperature and water they need to grow. Mold is often thought to be a warm-weather allergen, but in some places, mold spores don’t reach their peak until October. They can spread not only when it’s humid but also when it’s dry and windy. Mold allergy symptoms include nasal congestion, irritated eyes and coughing. 

School allergens: Aside from outdoor allergens, students, parents and teachers may be exposed to allergens in the classroom. Some culprits may include chalk dust and classroom pets. 

Talk to your healthcare provider (HCP) if you’re unsure of what’s causing your seasonal allergy symptoms. There are tests, such as allergy skin testing, which can help identify the culprits.  

Avoid top triggers 
Once you’ve identified your fall seasonal allergy triggers, you can take steps to avoid them or reduce your exposure. During the fall, weed pollen counts are highest in the mornings between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. It’s a good idea to avoid spending long periods of time outside during this window of time. 

If you do venture out in the morning hours, be aware that you may bring pollen back inside with you, cautions Dr. Schecker. “Pollen sticks to your hair, skin and clothes, and that may be a hidden source of pollen you may not be aware of,” he says. “If you’re outdoors, consider changing clothes or even showering as soon as you come inside.” 

To avoid outdoor mold allergens, leave doors and windows closed, check mold counts before venturing out and remain inside (with the air conditioner on) when counts are high. Whenever possible, leave the leaf raking, lawn mowing and gutter cleaning to someone else. Keep your indoor surfaces spotless—especially the warm, damp ones—and use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels low. 

Know your treatment options 
If you suspect you have fall seasonal allergies, it’s important to reach out to your HCP about lifestyle changes or treatments that could help provide you with some relief. If you know you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer, discuss your options before your symptoms arise. 

Over-the-counter antihistamines, eye drops or oral medications could help, as can steroid nasal sprays and decongestants. Be sure to talk to your HCP before trying any over-the-counter remedies. If these medications fail to provide relief, your HCP may prescribe a stronger medication. “You might have to combine two or even three medicines to get the relief you’re looking for,” Schecker says. 

Some people with more severe seasonal allergies may benefit from allergy shots, Schecker adds. “There is no cure for allergies, but allergy shots can treat the underlying cause,” he says. “After we determine what you’re allergic to, by giving you a test, we can create a specific vaccine and give appropriate shots.” 

Medically reviewed in February 2020. Updated in March 2021. 

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