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Why am I Sneezing? It May be Fall Allergies!

Oct. 25, 2017 at midnight

If you find yourself sniffling, sneezing and coughing as soon as the weather turns colder, you are not alone. In fact, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, impacting more than 50 million people and costing more than $18 billion every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. But how can you tell if you are suffering from allergies, as opposed to a run-of-the-mill cold? Here’s a primer on fall allergies.

Allergies happen when your body’s immune system regards a substance as harmful and overreacts to it, according to the Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America. We refer to any substances that cause allergic reactions as allergens. When someone who is sensitive to the allergen comes into contact with it, their immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E, which results in an allergic reaction.

Symptoms will vary from person to person depending on the severity of the reaction. In most cases, symptoms are annoying and run the gamut from sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, to a rash or hives. Symptoms can ratchet up from there, causing trouble breathing or even swelling in your mouth and throat. A life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis is possible in severe cases.

The milder – yet still incredibly aggravating – symptoms can be similar to a cold and may appear only during certain times of the year, which indicates a seasonal allergy to something in your environment.

While most people assume that spring – with all the blossoming flowers – is prime allergy season, there are four common types of allergens that tend to wreak havoc in the fall: Ragweed, mold, dust mites and pet dander.

Ragweed is a yellow flowering weed that blooms in August until the first freeze. This tiny plant’s pollen packs a wallop - a single plant produces up to a billion grains of pollen annually. Ragweed allergies impact about three-quarters of the folks who suffer from springtime allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. To combat it, watch your local pollen count and stay indoors during peak pollen times.

Of course, indoor environments have their own issues. Pet allergies are another common source of trouble – particularly for those allergic to pet hair or dander (dead skin cells that animals naturally shed). These symptoms can get worse seasonally as pets naturally shed summer or winter coats. If you have pet allergies but want to live with a pet, you may want to consider a more hypoallergenic breed, not allow them on furniture you use, and have them groomed regularly.

Dust mites living in your home can also cause issues. While it’s impossible to eliminate these microscopic creatures, you can reduce their numbers by cleaning out your air vents before turning on your heat for the first time in the fall and by replacing carpeting (where they love to live) with hardwood or tile flooring.

One other allergen that might pose a threat in South Texas after Hurricane Harvey's assault is mold (and mildew). These black marks on walls are actually fungi that thrive in wet environments and produce spores that can trigger allergic reactions. You can purchase anti-mold cleaners that will help get rid of the problem, and run a dehumidifier to help eliminate the moist environment in which they thrive.

While many people can handle seasonal allergies with over-the-counter medications, if symptoms linger or worsen, make an appointment to see a professional. They can help identify exactly what you are allergic to and devise a treatment plan to minimize your discomfort. There's no reason why allergies should prevent you from enjoying this beautiful time of year.


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