Medical Director, Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Oakland Campus)
Chief, Allergy-Immunology (Shadyside Campus)
Autumn means back to school, cooler weather and fall foliage. Unfortunately, for many of us, it also means experiencing allergies to ragweed and mold. With about 40 million Americans suffering from allergies, approximately 10 to 20 percent of the public is allergic to ragweed.
Ragweed flowers from mid-August to late October or until the first frost. And although rain washes pollen away, it can help mold spores to grow quickly outside – a pile of damp leaves is a prime example. Many people that are allergic to pollens released in the spring are also allergic to ragweed. Not only that, but ragweed can travel hundreds of miles from wind and therefore spread to many areas.
Here are some common questions about allergies.
How do I know if I have allergies?
There are indoor and outdoor allergies, and it’s important to understand the difference. Pets, dust mites, mold or cockroaches qualify as indoor allergens. Outdoor allergies are trees, grass and weed pollens, as well as mold. Allergy season is determined by pollen count, and varies by region. Usually, tree pollen is active in early spring, grass in early summer, and weed in early fall. For more detailed information, check your local listing which can provide a more precise day-to-day pollen count.
Runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, and puffy eyes are all typical symptoms of allergies. Difficulty breathing could be a sign of asthma and fever and chills indicate a cold or the flu. Colds get better over a week to 10 days in most people while allergies tend to last longer. Individuals with allergies will remember having the same symptoms at the same time each year.
What can people suffering from seasonal allergies do to relieve symptoms?
- Don’t open your windows.
- Use air conditioning.
- Clean your filters.
- If you exercise outside, avoid morning workouts when pollen counts are higher. From sunrise to mid-morning, pollen counts are high. Pollen counts are lower in early evening.
- Wear sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Try over-the-counter antihistamines.
What over-the-counter medicine works best?
Every person responds differently to medication. There are non-sedative antihistamine options that are recommended for daytime. Some people like a saline nasal wash which will wash out some of the allergen that gets in the nose. Nasal steroid sprays are prescription only and are the most potent medical therapy.
There are also allergy (immunotherapy) shots that modify the immune system and improve allergies long-term if you can identify specific things that trigger your symptoms.
For specific treatment, see an allergist for a one-on-one consult.
Where can I get tested for allergies?
If you are experiencing common allergy symptoms for more than two weeks and/or at consistent times throughout the year, visiting a board-certified allergist would be beneficial.