(BPT) - Autumn is a season filled with crisp air, falling leaves, pumpkin carving and, of course, hay fever symptoms. Hay fever affects 23.6 million American adults and children, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Symptoms commonly appear during the spring and fall months.
'Ragweed blooms from August until November, and is unfortunately lasting longer every year,' says Dr. Michael Foggs, an allergist and ACAAI president-elect. 'Research suggests the season lasts up to three weeks longer than it used to, and the further north you live, the longer you have to wait for relief.'
To help sufferers fight fall allergy symptoms, ACAAI offers these tips:
Know the culprits - The most common sneeze and wheeze trigger during the fall hay fever season is ragweed pollen. Ragweed can begin blooming as early as August in some regions. A single ragweed plant may release 1 million pollen grains in just one day, and one grain can travel up to 100 miles. Mold can also be particularly bothersome this time of year. Unlike pollen, mold doesn't die with the first frost. Rather, spores stop growing during this time.
Avoid triggers - Ragweed pollen and mold spores can float in the air and linger on fallen leaves. After spending time outdoors, shower and change and wash your clothes. Clean your nasal passages, too, by using a salt water rinse. While working outdoors, wear a pollen mask, such as a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask. Be sure to also keep your car and home windows closed.
Find relief - If you wait until the first sneeze to take your medication, you may be too late. Allergists recommend taking your medication two weeks before symptoms begin, and continuing for two weeks after the first frost. Because of the nasal and eye symptoms associated with ragweed allergies, symptoms can linger after the pollen is no longer detected in the air.
Get tested - While hay fever may not seem serious, self-diagnosis and self-treatment can be. Many popular over-the-counter medications can cause sleep disturbances and mental impairment. If you have symptoms, make an appointment with an allergist for proper testing. Allergy testing can be done as skin tests or as blood tests, with positive results usually appearing in about 20 minutes.
Arm yourself - Allergy symptoms can be bothersome enough without flu symptoms getting in the way. Because the flu season overlaps with fall allergy season, be sure to get a flu shot. Recent studies have found even those with an egg allergy can safely get a flu shot. An allergist may also prescribe immunotherapy (allergy shots) to provide you with allergy relief during the fall months. While there is no cure for hay fever, this form of therapy can prevent and modify disease progression.
Seasonal allergies and asthma are serious diseases that should be properly treated by a board-certified allergist. More information and free allergy tools, including the My Nasal Allergy Journal, can be found at www.AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.