Here's Why Your Allergies Are So Much Worse in the Fall
Ah, the cool comfort of fall. Crunchy red and gold leaves underfoot, plaid shirts on display, crisp wind in your hair, pumpkins everywhere. It's my favorite time of year, except for one thing: annoying fall allergies are back. Why do the sniffles, sneezes, itchy eyes, and allergy headaches (yes, that's a thing) make an appearance so many months after pollen picks up? POPSUGAR spoke to allergists to get to the bottom of why it might seem like your allergies get worse in the fall and what you can do about it.
Why Are My Allergies So Bad in the Fall?
Unfortunately for allergy sufferers like me, allergies are not just a springtime nuisance. There are many fall allergens that can cause the same annoying symptoms — and depending on what you're allergic to, you may even have worse allergies in the fall than in the spring. "Allergies in the fall can be as intense as spring for many people," Neeta Ogden, MD, a board-certified allergist and medical advisor at Curex, tells POPSUGAR. "The biggest culprit is fall ragweed, other weeds, and grasses. As the leaves and branches fall, outdoor molds can also cause fall allergies."
Like spring allergens, these fall culprits tend to be most prevalent for a specific period of time — but the climate can also have an impact. "Fall allergy season for those with weed allergies will start in August and last through October," explains Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist practicing at Columbia Asthma and Allergy Clinic. "Weather conditions such as a drought, increased rainfall, snow, temperature, and other factors can affect the length and severity of these allergy seasons."
You may feel worse or have more symptoms on days where there are high pollen counts or there's poor air quality, Dr. Jain tells POPSUGAR. "Smoke in the air [from forest fires] as well as weed pollen and mold spores can trigger allergic responses that result in symptoms such as sneezing, runny or itchy nose, watery or itchy red eyes, congestion, cough, and asthma exacerbations." Dr. Ogden adds that fall allergies may be more likely to trigger asthma, which may explain why you notice your symptoms more this time of year.
While weather conditions affect allergies in the short-term (i.e. for the day, week, or given allergy season), research shows that climate change is also affecting allergy season in the long run. Pollen seasons have been getting longer over the past few decades, often with more pollen. Shifting temperatures and rain changes could mean that allergy season starts up to 40 days earlier and last 19 days longer by the year 2100, and that annual United States pollen emissions could be by up to 40 percent, according to a 2022 study published in Nature Communications.
How Can I Manage My Fall Allergy Symptoms?
Being proactive will help lessen your fall allergy symptoms. Dr. Ogden recommends staying aware of local pollen counts (you can usually find them with the weather forecast or on websites like the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology) and limiting your time outdoors on high-allergy days.
Dr. Ogden also stresses the importance of making an appointment with a board-certified allergy specialist. "This is an efficient way to identify your allergic triggers and optimize your allergy treatment, so you aren't roaming the pharmacy aisles or ending up in urgent care when you are not feeling well," Dr. Ogden explained. "This is a key first step in treating allergies effectively!"
Your doctor may suggest taking allergy medicine as a preventive measure. Dr. Jain typically recommends taking a daily, non-sedating antihistamine, such as Zyrtec or Claritin, during peak allergy season, in order to avoid having your symptoms flare up. Other options include nasal sprays. "Steroid nasal sprays such as Flonase are a great option for a controller medication during the fall to reduce inflammation and reduce the severity of symptoms," Dr. Jain says. You may also need to use an inhaler if fall allergens trigger asthma symptoms.
Of course, reducing your exposure to allergens is an important step in controlling your symptoms. "You can wear a mask covering the nose and mouth to reduce the amount of pollen or mold that is inhaled," Dr. Jain says. "We also recommend avoiding going outside on windy days and delegating tasks such as lawn-mowing and other yard work to someone who does not have allergy symptoms." Keep your windows closed on days when pollen counts are high, and consider taking other steps to allergy-proof your home, including vacuuming with a HEPA filter, washing your bedding on hot, and using an air purifier.
If you're still struggling to manage your symptoms, your doctor may recommend other treatment options, such as allergy shots or immunotherapy. Fall allergies are an annoying fact of life, but that doesn't mean you have to suffer! With over-the-counter medication, basic preventative measures, and the help of an allergist, you can go back to enjoying all your favorite outdoor fall activities again.