When temperatures drop and summer weather fades into autumn chill, there are certain things we all love: snuggly sweaters, hot cocoa, the smell of indoor fires. And there are others that, well, a lot of us could live without. Fall, like spring, is a prime season for allergies, and it can be hellish for people who are sensitive to hayfever. But fall and spring allergies are different in certain ways, and knowing how those differences play out can mean you're fully armed to deal when the sniffles begin.
Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist/immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network, tells Bustle, "Fall and spring allergies are very similar in terms of symptoms. They both cause coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes. The main difference is the type of pollen." If you get hay fever, you're part of the 40 percent of allergy-havers with a pollen sensitivity. The big distinction between the seasons, Dr. Parikh says, is in the pollen allergens themselves, the elements that become airborne and irritate the airways of people with sensitivities.
The main component of fall allergens is weed pollen, like that of ragweed, which has 17 different varieties across the country. One ragweed plant can release up to a billion seed grains, and the plant is endemic throughout the US, so there's not really much chance of escaping it. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that sagebrush, pigweed, lamb’s quarters and tumbleweed also produce weed pollens in fall that can irritate your airways.
"In spring, the main culprit is tree pollen," says Dr. Parikh. Willow, ash, elm and birch trees are prime culprits for causing hay fever in the spring months, as they release pollen from February to about June. Their pollen spores are spread by spring breezes, and cease when the summer heat truly hits.
But it's not just about natural pollens. Fall is also the peak season for mold and mildew to develop and place spores in the atmosphere of your home. They tend to go into hibernation during the truly cold weather, so the beginning of autumnal weather, with its dropping temperatures and increased damp, is the prime period for them to develop and cause problems for your allergies. When fall comes it's a good idea to do a 'fall clean' — like a spring clean, but with special emphasis on bleaching and clearing away potential sources of mold that might irritate you in the future.
Fall is also when your allergies might feel worse because your symptoms are being exacerbated by viruses and bacteria. Dr. Parikh explains, "The main unique issue with fall allergy season is that there are also viruses in the air that can make symptoms worse." Flu and other respiratory illnesses that start to become common as we spend more time indoors can compound the icky, achy feeling of allergies. "Make sure you wash your hands frequently and get your flu shot," Dr. Parikh says.
If you get symptoms of an allergic response to pollen or mold, doctors recommend that you identify your specific allergies using a skin test. But the treatment for both seasons is the same: a lot of antihistamines.