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It’s Fall; Why Am I Still Sneezing?

Woman sneezingSpring is typically associated with irritating allergies, but now that fall is upon us, why are you still sneezing? September marks the beginning of autumn, the second worst season for allergies. Thanks to those pesky plants that release pollen into October as well as certain environmental triggers, many Iowans are still suffering from allergies. If you have an itchy or runny nose, nasal congestion, repeated sneezing, watery eyes, or inflamed sinuses, you may be one of 40 million Americans suffering from hay fever — a common name for allergic rhinitis or nasal allergies.

This September, Eastern Iowa saw record-high pollen levels, of which ragweed is the most prevalent. Unfortunately for us, ragweed is nearly unavoidable and releases its pollen into October. Many different species of ragweed are found across the U.S., and pollen can easily travel hundreds of miles through the air. Even if you are away from the plant, a slight breeze could bring pollen into your airway. 

Mold is another common fall allergen. Schools are likely to have mold, perhaps more than what children are used to at home, so the beginning of a new school year may cause allergies to act up. Mold is found in damp areas inside as well as outside, so be conscientious when piling leaves in your yard — this can be an ideal breeding ground for mold spores.

Dust mites are also allergy triggers. While they are found year-round, a couple of factors specific to Iowa/the Midwest may increase our exposure in the fall. The first is the fall harvest. Combines across the state stir up dust during harvest season, so rural areas may be greatly affected. And, when temperatures start to drop and we turn on the furnace, our heating systems collect dust mites that are suddenly released into the air with the flick of a switch. 

However, several simple precautions can significantly reduce your allergy symptoms:

  1. Stay inside as much as possible to avoid pollen. Many news stations keep an updated pollen count; if levels are high, stay inside.
  2. Keep the windows closed and your air clean. Pollen is only prevalent until the first freeze. So, while it is still warm, try to keep windows closed and ensure that your air conditioner has a clean filter. When it gets cold, be sure to clean your heating system before turning it on.
  3. Change your clothes after spending time outside. The pollen, dust or mold stuck to your clothes could trigger an allergic reaction as much as being outside. 
  4. Shower often to remove allergens from skin and hair.
  5. Try nasal irrigation. Rinsing your nostrils with a salt water solution will clear allergens from your nasal passages and reduce nasal allergy symptoms.
  6. Get a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your home. This will be most effective in the bedroom, where you spend many hours each night. HEPA vacuum cleaners may also help.

If you are still suffering from allergy symptoms, schedule an appointment with your MercyCare family provider. Your provider may suggest using over-the-counter or prescription medications such as oral medication, nasal spray or eye drops. He or she may also refer you to a specialist to determine which allergens you are most affected by and to talk about other treatment options. To find a MercyCare provider, call (319) 369-4444.