Published: Oct. 8, 2010
Updated: Oct. 8, 2010
By Kate Griesmann
English plantain, mugwort sage, and lamb’s quarter may sound like ingredients for a fairytale potion, but they are just a few common fall-blooming weeds that can trigger seasonal allergies.
While in spring it’s tree pollen that gets the nose itching, fall allergies are most often caused by weed pollens, says Duke otolaryngologist Matthew Ellison, MD. Though the triggers change with the seasons, the symptoms and sufferers tend to be the same.
“If you suffer from allergies during one season, you are prone to develop allergies to pollens of other seasons. As you get older, though, you are less likely to develop new allergies,” Ellison says.
In the North Carolina Triangle area, short ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is the most prevalent allergen, though there are many others that thrive in the region as well. With the Triangle’s mild climate, the fall allergy season starts as early as August and lasts until the first good freeze, which could mean several long months for allergy sufferers.
Brisk, clear fall days may be a relief after the heat of summer, but they are a haven for pollen. “Rainy weather and very humid weather actually decrease airborne pollen counts,” says Ellison. “Of course, when the rain stops or the humidity drops, the weeds make up for the hiatus and begin releasing their pollen again.”
While spring-blooming trees and flowers let loose a sea of yellow pollen that coats everything in sight, weed pollens are much harder to see, and it doesn’t take many of the tiny granules to set off an allergic response.
Limiting your exposure to weed pollen is one important way to prevent allergies from flaring up. Keeping your bedroom clear of dust-collecting items (including pets) can help at home. Though cooler temperatures may tempt you to open the windows, remember that the breeze will carry in pollen as well.
If you’re going to be outside, Ellison recommends taking an over-the-counter allergy remedy at least an hour ahead of time. Make it a priority to shower (or at least wash your hands and face) and change your clothes when you come back inside.
For many people, allergy pills, nasal sprays, gels, and rinses (such as Neti Pot) available in pharmacies can provide relief from seasonal allergies.
“When looking for over-the-counter remedies, be sure to avoid sprays or gels that have decongestants like oxymetazoline (Afrin) or phenylephrine (Neosynephrine). These work great for nasal congestion, but come with a price of bad rebound -- a return of congestion worse than before,” says Ellison.
If over-the-counter medications don’t provide enough relief, it may be time to consider prescription medications or allergy shots or drops. In cases of very severe allergies, several surgical procedures are available that can relieve nasal congestion, allergy-related sinus infections and perhaps even other symptoms like drainage and sneezing.
Ellison suggests it may be time to consult a doctor if you experience any of the following: