Autumn Sneezes: Is it Fall Allergies or a Cold? - deebo

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    May 15, 2024 4 min read

    Leaves are transforming into vibrant hues of red and gold, and pumpkin spice season is in full swing. As cool weather arrives, the air fills with pollen, mold, and ragweed that cause runny noses and itchy, watery eyes across the nation. Fall seasonal allergies are a nuisance, but what causes them? How do you know if it’s allergies or a cold? Once we answer these questions, we'll provide tips for effective symptom management so you can enjoy the season without constantly reaching for tissues.

    Seasonal Allergies

    Our immune systems work in wondrous ways, but most of us would agree that allergies are not their best feature. We breathe in particles all day long, and the immune system has to decide whether those particles are good or bad. Allergic reactions occur when your immune system 'over' reacts to a substance that's not harmful to most other people.

    An immune reaction occurs when your immune system decides a particle is ‘bad.’ Pollen, dust, and mold are common environmental allergens your body might mistakenly identify as harmful. Immune cells attack the area the allergen entered your system. The end result is the common symptoms we see in allergies - itching, watery eyes and runny nose. These protective measures destroy and remove the allergen from our bodies, but the symptoms they cause can be very irritating and bothersome.

    What Causes Fall Allergies?

    The most common fall allergy trigger is ragweed pollen. Ragweed is a shrub-like plant that grows in many parts of the US, specifically the eastern and Midwestern states. It can pollinate as early as August and last until the first frost of the season in October or November. Mold spores and dust are two other important fall allergens.

    How Are Fall Allergies Medically Different Than Spring Allergies?

    As the seasons change, so do the most common allergy triggers. Spring seasonal allergies are usually caused by tree, grass, and weed pollen as the world awakens from winter quiet. The spring season is usually a bit shorter than the fall. Fall air is often drier than in the spring, making allergy symptoms worse for those who suffer from ragweed and other common allergens.

    What Are The Symptoms?

    The severity of allergy symptoms can range from mild annoyance to disrupting daily activities. The most common fall allergy symptoms are:

    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Sneezing
    • Itchy, watery eyes
    • Cough
    • Itchy throat

    Less common signs and symptoms include

    • Dark undereye circles, known as allergic shiners
    • Itchy ears
    • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
    • Fatigue
    • Sore throat
    • Severe headache

    Key Differences Between Colds And Allergies

    It can be hard to tell during the first few days whether you’re developing a cold or dealing with allergy symptoms. Shared symptoms include cough, runny nose, sneezing, and headaches.

    One of the earliest ways to tell is if your child has a fever just before or with the start of their congestion. Colds and viral illnesses often cause a fever for the first couple of days, and symptoms last about 7-10 days with gradual improvement.

    Seasonal allergies typically do not cause a fever and can last several weeks to months Symptom-wise, you’ll usually see clear drainage with runny nose and watery eyes for allergies. Most people complain more about ‘itchy’ symptoms like the nose, eyes, back of the throat, and even ears

    If you’re not sure whether it’s allergies or a cold, it’s okay to call or visit your doctor to get the proper diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor can provide you with medications and other treatments to help you manage your allergies during the fall season.

    How Can I Treat Fall Allergies?

    Learning how to manage fall allergies is key to enjoying the season. There are so many OTC options, it can be really confusing.

    Antihistamines are the most common OTC medication used for seasonal allergies. They halt the immune system 'over-reaction' and relieve sniffles, sneezes, and itches. Use an age-appropriate preparation and follow the directions on the label. Popular non-sedating antihistamines include:

    • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
    • Claritin (loratadine)
    • Allegra (fexofenadine)
    • Xyzal (levocetirizine)

    Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an older generation antihistamine, known for it’s sedating effect. It should not be your first choice for most children.

    Nasal decongestants, like Flonase and Nasacort, are great if runny nose if you're most irritating symptom.

    Allergy eye drops relieve itchy, watery eyes.

    Always read the label carefully to determine if the medication you are considering is safe for your child’s age and weight.

    Other treatments that may help include:

    • Cool compresses: A cool wet washcloth helps relieve itchy eyes
    • Honey: A teaspoon of local honey is a sweet treat that packs powerful health benefits. It's a great natural cough soother too. (Only give honey to children over one year old)
    • Saline flush: If your child is willing to try a saline rinse, it can help 'flush out' pollen and reduce the need for medications.

    When To Call The Doctor

    Most allergy symptoms are mild enough to manage at home. However, it's okay to schedule a doctor's visit if you aren't sure whether your child's symptoms are allergies or a cold. You should also call for a visit if your child is an infant or toddler since most OTC medications are developed and have instructions for children over the age of 4.

    It may be time to visit an allergist specialist if you have tried several medications and continue to experience bothersome symptoms. An allergist can help you determine what is causing your allergies and develop a treatment plan.

    What Are Some Preventive Measures For Fall Allergies?

    If you have experienced hay fever or other fall allergies in the past, you can take some preventive measures to help prevent unbearable symptoms this year.

    • Start taking your preferred medication before symptoms appear
    • Monitor pollen counts: Several apps provide real-time pollen count information. Stay indoors as much as possible on these days, at least in the morning when pollen counts usually peak.
    • Wear a mask outside to reduce the amount of pollen, dust, and other irritants you inhale.
    • Change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors.
    • Keep windows and doors closed to avoid allowing pollen into your home.
    • Vacuum regularly to reduce the amount of allergens in your home. Remove carpet if possible.
    • Install a HEPA filter to trap allergens. Replace your furnace filter every 60-90 days.

    By taking a few simple steps, you can reduce your exposure to allergens and enjoy the fall season.