Fall will hit Richmond before you know it -- and with that comes fall allergies. Allergy sufferers know all too well how autumn can worsen allergies. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help mitigate the effects of seasonal allergies. In this article, we'll discuss the most common allergens that arrive with the autumn leaves, what you need to do now, and when to see a doctor or specialist.

Fall Allergies: Common Culprits

Ragweed is a member of the daisy family with small, yellow-green flowers. It emerges in late summer to early fall and releases high amounts of pollen into the air. A typical ragweed plant releases about a million grains per plant per day, which can travel up to four hundred miles on a windy day. Ragweed season usually peaks in mid-September and ends with the first frost of the year, which in Richmond is around Halloween.

Weed pollen is the main cause of hay fever during the fall months, mostly because it's so common. It can grow anywhere, especially in fields, gardens, and roadsides. Ragweed is common in the Midwestern states and along the East Coast, and quite prominent in Richmond.

Read more: A Month-by-Month Guide to Seasonal Allergies in Richmond

Grass pollen, another common allergen, often sees a spike of activity around Labor Day, which can be a problem for people who have sensitivities to both weed and grass pollen. This time of year can cause severe and lingering allergy symptoms due to the combination of allergens in the air.

Finally, mold and dust mites tend to cause allergy issues in the fall as well. Dust mites are microscopic bugs that are found in anything upholstered (bedding, pillows, furniture, etc.) They exist in the trillions in our home and are a common cause of indoor allergic symptoms. Dust mite allergies tend to spike in the fall due to people spending more time indoors, getting more exposure to dust mite.

Actions to Minimize Allergy Symptoms

What can you do to deal with your allergy symptoms this Fall? Here are some of the most effective steps you can take.

  • Consider having an allergy skin test to identify the culprit(s) behind your symptoms. This will help you and your provider determine environmental risk factors and narrow down treatment options.
  • Proactively treat your allergies before your symptoms begin to limit symptoms. If you know you have a ragweed allergy, begin taking your allergy medications two weeks before ragweed pollen counts typically rise. This works best if you know what you’re allergic to.
  • Your doctor may suggest a variety of treatment options, including sinus rinses, nasal steroids or antihistamines, oral allergy medication, immunotherapy, or a combination of these.
  • Check your local pollen counts. This can help you implement some avoidance measures and minimize your exposure. You can check pollen levels at websites like com or weather.com. Each website has an allergy tracker and forecast. Just enter your zip code to find the top allergens and ratings for the day.
  • Pollen counts tend to be highest early in the morning, during windy days, and sometimes after rain, so time your outdoor activities accordingly.
  • A tip for parents of children with allergies: during the fall, temperatures are still recess-friendly, and it's common for childrens' allergies to worsen while at school. Have a plan of action with your doctor, teacher, and school nurse regarding asthma or allergy medications. All the necessary paperwork should be on file with the school at the beginning of the school year.
  • Pretreat your activities with medication if directed to do so by your healthcare provider.

Need help treating your seasonal allergies? Schedule an appointment with a Virginia ENT doctor today.

Actions to Minimize Mold Allergy Symptoms

  • Mold is present year round, but spore counts tend to rise in the fall, particularly after trees drop damp leaves on the ground. As above, check the weather websites and limit outdoor activity when the mold counts are high.
  • You can wear a dust or particulate respirator mask when cutting grass, raking leaves, gardening or disturbing other plant materials, to minimize your exposure.
  • To reduce mold indoors, be aggressive in reducing dampness in bathrooms, basements, and laundry areas. If possible, lower the humidity in your house to 35 or 40 percent. Above 50 may cause fungi to thrive in your home.
  • Central air with HEPA filtration is optimal for trapping dust and mold.
  • Maintain good airflow in the home.
  • Keep your outdoor gutters clean of leaves and debris, and make sure rainwater drains away from your house.

Actions to Minimize Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms

  • Purchase and use dust mite encasements for your beds and pillows.
  • Launder your bed linens once a week in hot water.
  • Limit the amount of stuffed animals in and around the bed.
  • Limit carpeting and rugs in the home, if possible.
  • Vacuum often.
  • "Damp dust" with a cloth as opposed to feather dusting.
  • Pet fur is a common harbor for dust mites (and outdoor allergens). Keep animals out of your bed and bedroom.
  • Perform regular maintenance on your HVAC filters.

Get Proactive

One of the biggest steps you can take to keep allergies from bringing your life to a halt is to start taking allergy medication before the problem season arrives. This is one of the reasons an allergy test is so helpful: you know what the cause is. If you know the season is coming, you know when conditions will be at their worst, and when it's best to start (and stop) taking your medication.

Long-acting oral and nasal antihistamines, nasal steroids, and saline sinus rinses can all help minimize your allergy symptoms. Immunotherapy addresses the root of the allergy problem by desensitizing the patient to his/her allergens, therefore symptoms don’t occur in the first place or are minimal.

When to See a Specialist

  • If you have a "cold" that just won't quit, or if it lingers or recurs. It might be an allergy instead.
  • If over-the-counter medications are failing or not tolerated, or if you’re interested in an allergy skin test.
  • If you suffer recurrent sinus infections, ear infections, or asthma flare-ups

Controlling your allergies often yields a significant reduction in the severity and frequency of sinus and ear infections, and could help avoid nose or sinus surgery.

If any of the above apply to you, or if you have questions about seasonal allergies, contact Virginia ENT today to schedule an appointment.