As summer comes to a close, kids head back to school and preparation for fall begins, don't' forget to consider fall allergies. An estimated 35 million Americans suffer from allergies, which in the fall begin in late August and peak in September. For those with fall allergies, three triggers typically occur - ragweed, indoor allergens and infections.
"During the summer, people experience the lowest incidence of allergies and asthma so they feel better and stop taking their allergy medications. But they should start taking them again in early September to prevent symptoms before they start," said David Rosenstreich, M.D., director of the allergy and immunology division at Montefiore Medical Center. "If allergy sufferers make the mistake of waiting until after their symptoms are in full swing, it's much harder to stop the allergic reaction than to prevent it from even beginning."
One of the biggest culprits for fall allergies is ragweed. In the fall, ragweed releases pollen into the air and this continues until frost kills the plant closer to winter. Most prevalent in the Eastern and Midwest states, ragweed causes an allergic reaction commonly called hay fever and results in symptoms that include itchy eyes, nose and throat, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, tearing or dark circles under the eyes.
An allergy symptom is the result of the immune system overreacting. It mistakes the pollen or other allergy trigger as a foreign invader and attacks it, which leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. The histamine travels through the blood and latches onto histamine receptors on other cells, causing them to swell. This inflammation causes many familiar allergy symptoms.
Another trigger for allergies during the fall is due to people staying indoors more and they are therefore exposed to allergens like pet dander, dust and mold. Several precautions to consider include:
•Maintain an allergen free environment at home
•Focus on your bedroom: keep your pets out, eliminate the rug because it collects dust and avoid feather pillows
•Make sure the fireplace is well-ventilated and be careful of any leakage
•Keep basement and bathroom dry to avoid mold growing in these damp areas of the house
•Have your heating system cleaned to avoid dust mites when you first turn on the heat
The third trigger is infections and the flu, which affect the body's immune system and cause it to release antibodies and histamines to fight them off. The flu vaccine is recommended to help reduce the risk of getting sick, but it's even more important for people who suffer from asthma or other lung conditions.
"There's no reason for people with allergies to suffer," Dr. Rosenstreich said. "As long as you take the proper precautions, you should be able to enjoy the beautiful fall weather and make the most of family time in your home."
David L. Rosenstreich, M.D., is Board Certified in Allergy & Immunology and Internal Medicine, and is a professor in both the Department of Medicine and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology in the Department of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Rosenstreich has received many awards, including the Danziger Distinguished Scholar Award in Microbiology and Immunology and a Public Health Service Commendation for his work with the U.S. Public Health Service.
As a scientific investigator, he has focused on the pathophysiology and etiology of allergic diseases, including asthma. Dr. Rosenstreich has authored or co-authored over 130 original research publications in peer-reviewed journals, and is the editor of three books. He is also the co-director of the Montefiore Severe Asthma Center, and has served as a consultant to the New York City Department of Health Citywide Asthma Initiative.
Montefiore Medical Center