Survival tips for fall allergies
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It’s the first day of Fall, the time of year in the Upstate when ragweed season collides with mold season—and the living is anything but easy. While medicines can help, the key is avoidance. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid allergens this Fall:
• Minimize extra clutter in your home. Clutter is anything that will collect dust. If you are a “pack rat,” learn about the tax-deductible benefits of a trip to Goodwill or a similar store.
• Vacuum weekly using a high-efficiency filter (available as an “allergy filter” to fit your specific model).
• Consider purchasing portable HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) filters for your bedroom and living room.
• Take your medicines as prescribed; sporadic use leads to poor results.
• Avoid strong fumes (bleach, cleaning agents, formaldehyde), tobacco smoke, strong perfumes, etc. If you find that your symptoms are almost always triggered by these non-allergic irritants, you may have a component of vasomotor rhinitis, which is treated a little differently.
In the Upstate, trees pollenate in the spring (mid-March to mid-May); grasses pollenate in the summer (May to August) and weeds pollenate in the fall (mid-August to the first frosts). The Upstate has some of the highest pollen counts in the country, so unless you can totally avoid the outdoors, consider the following:
• Keep windows closed in your home and car. Change your HVAC filters frequently and keep your car’s A/C setting on “recirculate” to filter the air.
• Dry, windy days seem to spread pollen most effectively.
• Wear a mask when mowing the yard or raking leaves.
• Unless you are inside all the time, it will be very difficult to control pollen exposure, therefore, use your medicines as prescribed. In general, this means starting them around two weeks before pollen season and continuing use daily during the season. Remember, they don’t work well if used randomly.
Mold spores are a very significant allergen in the Upstate. They are present in both indoor and outdoor environments to some extent year-round but are worse from April through November. Totally avoiding mold is virtually impossible, but consider the following:
• Carefully survey your home and work environment for evidence of mold growth, moisture problems and water damage. Seal potential sources of moisture penetration. Clean using a diluted bleach solution (5%).
• Avoid humidifier use; consider adding a de-humidifier to reduce levels to less than 50%.
• Professional environmental surveys are commercially available. These surveys can sample the specific mold levels present in your home and may offer more aggressive treatment possibilities.
• Minimize live houseplants. Moist soil harbors spores.
• Portable HEPA filters may be beneficial.
• If your allergy to mold is severe, pay very close attention to outdoor activities during October, November and early December. Mold levels may become very high, triggering allergy or asthma attacks.
Medicine and Evaluation
If avoiding allergens doesn’t quite take care of your symptoms, medicines such as over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal sprays may provide relief. If you don’t have any luck with over-the-counter medicines, an evaluation by a doctor may be in order. Your primary care doctor can help you determine an effective treatment plan. You also can make an appointment with an allergist-immunologist, who will be able to determine any specific allergy you’re sensitive to via testing and use that knowledge to develop a targeted treatment plan.
About the Author
John Pulcini, MD, is a physician at Acadia Allergy & Immunology in Greenville, SC. He is board certified in Pediatrics and Allergy and Immunology. For more information, contact Acadia Allergy & Immunology.