How to Deal With Fall Allergies and Asthma

Identify Triggers, Medicate Wisely

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People who have fall allergy and asthma problems often feel worse during late summer and early autumn months. As vacations wind down and kids go back to school, you're dealing with sneezing, wheezing, and coughing once again. Fall allergies can get in the way of those activities in a big way.

Some people deal with allergy and asthma symptoms year round, because they're triggered by substances found in the everyday living environment.

Other people only deal with the symptoms at certain times of the year, if they have the outdoor type of seasonal allergies, meaning that triggers are commonly found outdoors, rather than indoors. And still others have allergic asthma symptoms year round but find they get much worse in the late summer and early fall, when certain triggers are most present.

Common fall allergy and asthma symptoms can include:

  • sneezing
  • nasal stuffiness
  • runny nose
  • itchy, watery, burning eyes
  • itchy mouth or throat
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • tight feeling in the chest

Kids with asthma and allergies may also have what is known as the allergic salute, where they rub their noses upward because of itching and have allergic shiners, which are dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion. These are all just the typical symptoms of fall allergy and asthma sufferers. Nothing is different in the fall, except that if you are allergic to fall allergens, your symptoms may increase.

Common Fall Allergens or Triggers

Seasonal allergies can occur at different times in different parts of the United States and other countries, depending on climate and location. When summer starts to wind down, harvest time begins and autumn leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground—though, chances are that fall allergy and asthma challenges are about to begin.

The most common early fall allergens, or triggers, are weed pollens, especially ragweed. Pollen are tiny egg-shaped male cells found in flowering plants. You may know pollen better as the tiny, powdery granules that plants use during the fertilization process. The size of a typical pollen spore is smaller in diameter than a human hair.

Toward the end of summer, around mid-August in most of the United States, weed pollen levels start to rise. They tend to be at their highest levels during late summer and fall. Some common weed allergens are:

  • ragweed
  • cockleweeds
  • pigweed
  • Russian thistle
  • sagebrush
  • tumbleweed

Another type of allergen that is most active during the fall (although they can begin in late summer) are mold spores. Mold and its spores are a powerful allergen in people who have allergic asthma with a sensitivity to mold. Mold can grow both inside and out, so it can be an indoor asthma trigger, as well as an outdoor asthma trigger. It's the outdoor type of mold, though, that causes the most allergy and asthma problems in the fall.

The most common types of molds that are asthma triggers include:

  • alternaria
  • cladosporium
  • aspergillus

Influencing Factors

The type of pollen that triggers allergies is a lightweight airborne powder.

So it is easily spread far and wide on windy days. When it is rainy, though, the rain washes the pollen spores away and pollen counts tend to be lower, which brings relief from symptoms.

Molds don't have a specific growing season as pollen does. Their growth is related more to environmental factors, such as heat, wind and humidity, rather than a time of year. Since heat and humidity are often highest in the late summer/early fall, though, in many areas, that's when mold spore levels are highest. In temperate climates, such as the southern United States and western United States coast, though, outdoor molds may be active year round.

Outdoor molds are found in piles of dead leaves, soil, vegetation, and rotting wood.

How Fall Allergies and Asthma Are Diagnosed

If you notice that your allergy and asthma symptoms crop up—or worsen—during the fall, there's a good chance that you have fall allergies. To find out for sure, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor may decide to refer you to an allergist, who can do formal allergy testing to find out exactly what weeds or molds you may be allergic to. Mold spores are often at their highest levels outdoors in the late summer & fall.

The good news is, there is no reason why you just have to "grin and bear it" with fall allergies and asthma symptoms. There are easy steps you can take to keep symptoms from interfering with your life, work, and school. A combination of preventive actions and medication are usually all it will take.

Preventive Actions You Can Take

Here are some of the best prevention actions you should work on:

  • Pay attention to pollen and mold counts for your area. Many local weather forecasts will report on mold counts during this time of year as well as pollen counts, or you can check at the National Allergy Bureau, which reports both pollen and mold counts.
  • When pollen and mold counts are high, stay indoors as much as you can. Mold counts tend to be highest on hot, humid or damp days, so stay indoors as much as you can on such days. Same goes for times when pollen counts are high, which is primarily on hot, dry, and windy days.
  • When you're indoors or in the car, keep the windows closed and air-conditioning on. Even if it's not hot out, turning on the A/C will keep pollen and mold spores from blowing in to your home or car through the window, especially if the air-conditioning unit is equipped with a HEPA filter.

Try a number of other strategies for avoiding mold.

Medications You Can Take

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat fall allergies and asthma. For asthma, you should be taking your inhaled steroid every day as prescribed to prevent symptoms and using your rescue inhaler if symptoms do arise. (If you need to use it twice a week or more, though, it's time to call the doctor for a more effective preventive medicine.) Medications used to treat fall allergy symptoms can include:

  • Oral Antihistamines. Antihistamines are the most tried and true medications for treating most allergy symptoms. They work directly on the underlying allergic response. They can include first-generation medicines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlortrimeton (chlorpheniramine). These are cheap and available over the counter and generally effective but can make you feel drowsy. The newer antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra are effective and nonsedating, but may be more expensive. Claritin and Zyrtec are both available over the counter, but Allegra is not. Some antihistamines are also combined with a decongestant to combat nasal congestion.
  • Nasal decongestant sprays. These can work well for relieving nasal symptoms on a short-term basis, but they cannot be safely used throughout the fall allergy season. And, if used too much, they can actually make nasal symptoms worse.
  • Nasal steroid sprays or nasal chromolyn sodium. These prescription nasal sprays, such as Flonase, are some of the most effective medicines, and because they act only where needed, are also some of the safest.
  • Eye drops. There is a wide variety of eye drops that can be used for eye allergies. Use caution in using drops, such as Visine Allergy, though, as they can make symptoms worse if overused. Natural tears type eye drops are the gentlest and may work for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms may respond well to an antihistamine eye drop, such as Alaway or Zaditor, both of which are available over the counter. There are also prescription eye drops available that may be helpful.

For those who want a more "natural" approach, a saline nasal rinse/irrigation is both gentle and effective. The idea is to wash out molds, other allergens, and mucus from the nasal passages by flushing them with salt water (saline). These preparations are available over the counter in most drug stores.

In Summary

If your allergies and asthma get worse in the fall, don't feel as though you just have to suffer. Take action! You can feel better and continue to live a full and active life, even in the face of autumn allergies. Talk to your doctor before your symptoms begin to make sure you have a plan in place in time. And, if you plan to take an oral antihistamine, it can take up to two weeks for it to reach full effectiveness, so be sure to start taking it before you expect fall allergies to start.

If you have asthma year round, but your nasal allergies and eye allergies are more seasonal in nature, it's important to stay on top of the allergy symptoms, so that you can nip them in the bud quickly.

When nasal allergies spiral out of control, asthma often follows, even if it has been stable before.


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Allergic Rhinitis. AAAAI. 2008.

Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 2007. 

Tips to remember: outdoor allergens. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 2007

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