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The arrival of fall means another round of itchy eyes, sneezing and nasal congestion for the estimated 50 million allergy sufferers, including six million children. The key players in bringing on allergy attacks are fall-blooming weeds, as well as household dust mites and molds. Over the past 15 years, fall allergy season has been lasting longer because the first frost has been arriving later and later.
The main weed villain is ragweed, which provokes an estimated 85-90 percent of symptoms. Ragweed pollen may be less in some areas this year because of the long, dry summer in many places. Ragweed grows much better when it’s wet and rainy. However, some areas are reporting more ragweed over a longer season.
Ragweed begins to bloom in mid-August and continues until late October or longer depending on when the first frost occurs. Each plant can produce one billion pollen grains, with each capable of traveling 400 miles. Other culprits are pigweed, plantain, sheep sorrel, sagebrush and late-blooming trees.
Ragweed, which resembles a young tomato plant, can be found along roadsides, and in vacant lots and fields, and other sunny spots. Almost no place in the U.S. is ragweed-free but the plant is most prevalent in the Northeast, South and Midwest. Ragweed season is expected to be average in the South and Midwest because of drought conditions.
An estimated 3.8 million days of work and school are missed due to seasonal allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Allergies rank as the sixth-leading cause of chronic disease in the U.S.
Fall allergy symptoms are similar to those of the common cold but without a fever, muscle aches or yellow mucous. Nasal drainage from allergies stays clear. Sufferers may experience fatigue, insomnia, and problems with concentration and work performance. Fall allergies can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to colds, flu or sinus infections.
Fall allergies usually don’t let up until after the first hard frost. In the meantime, what do you do?
Reduce your exposure
•Avoid being outdoors in the morning between 5-10 a.m. when pollen levels are at their highest.
•Another good time to go outdoors is immediately after a rainfall. Pollen disperses more slowly after a rainfall and on cloudy or windless days.
•Stay away from fields or areas where ragweed or other fall-blooming weeds grow.
•Keep windows shut in both your house and car.
•Shower and change after being outside to remove allergens that tend to stick to hair and clothes.
•Limit exposure to irritants, such as tobacco smoke and air pollution, which may aggravate symptoms.
•Get someone else to rake the leaves.
•If hypersensitive, consider wearing a face mask outdoors.
•Limit houseplants as they can increase exposure to molds.
•Remove floral arrangements with dried weeds or grasses.
• Monitor pollen levels for your area through the National Allergy Bureau. Their toll-free information line is 800-9POLLEN.
•Start medication 10-14 days before symptoms appear.
•Nasal steroids, antihistamines and decongestants are available over-the-counter and by prescription.
•Consider immunotherapy, or “allergy shots,” where allergen extracts are injected in small doses to reduce sensitivity.
•Use a Neti Pot. The simple remedy involves sticking the spout of a small ceramic pot, called a Neti Pot, up each nostril to pour warm saline solution through the sinus passages. Regular use helps clean the sinuses, clear the head of congestion during allergy season, and reduce incidence of colds and sinus infections.
Avoid foods that may worsen allergies
•Exposure to ragweed causes some individuals to experience oral allergy syndrome, a tingling, swelling or itchiness of the mouth, throat and tongue after eating certain foods.
•Foods to be wary of include banana, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, sunflower seeds, chamomile tea and Echinacea.
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