John Fahrenholz, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine who practices at the Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program, says that this time of year can be a real challenge for people with allergies—and for the rest of us, too.
“People who know they have allergies should make sure to take their allergy medications daily during fall allergy season,” he said. “Ragweed and other weed pollens and outdoor mold spores are the major sources of outdoor allergy triggers in the fall.”
Since this is also the beginning of cold and flu season, Fahrenholz says that there are good ways to tell whether symptoms are from an infection or allergies.
“While some symptoms such as nasal congestion, drainage and cough can be caused by either allergy or infection, seasonal nasal allergy symptoms more commonly include nasal itch and frequent sneezing. Also, if you experience problems with your eyes itching and tearing along with nasal symptoms or wheezing, allergies are likely the cause of your symptoms,” he said.
As with many medical issues, prevention is much better than treatment.
“If symptoms are more than mild and infrequent during the fall season, prevention is most helpful,” Fahrenholz said.
“Newer over-the-counter antihistamines were designed for once-daily dosing and can provide 24-hour relief without drowsiness for most people. Older antihistamines, which are still available over the counter, usually need to be taken several times a day to be most effective. Past studies have demonstrated that children and adults taking these older antihistamines do not perform as well at school or driving a car even when they don’t notice any drowsiness.
“It’s also a good idea to avoid known allergy triggers if possible,” he added.
Here are a few guidelines from Fahrenholz to help you through fall:
• People with a tendency toward ongoing allergy symptoms during cooler months should make sure to take their regular allergy medications. The coming colder air is drier, which can cause irritation to the nasal tissues leading to increased nasal allergy symptoms.
• If temperature changes bring on an itchy, runny nose, try using an over-the-counter salt water nose spray or nasal sinus rinses.
• The flu virus likes cold temperatures and other common viruses are more common during the fall and winter.
• If symptoms are not well controlled with as-needed use of over-the-counter once-a-day antihistamines, prescription allergy nasal sprays are available that work much better for most people, including children. Consider a visit to an allergist to identify your specific allergies. Many people are surprised by the results of testing which may lead to new treatments and improved quality of life.