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Why Fall Allergies Always Sneak Up on You

Laura Bogart's work has appeared in Salon, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Tin House, SPIN, Indiewire, GOOD, and Refinery 29 (among other publications). She has also worked in health care communications.

Yes, fall allergies are a thing, & they're not the same as a cold

Pumpkin spice tissues aren’t on the market (yet), but for many of us, allergies are a seasonal ritual — as familiar as the lattes, granola crunch and, yes, even pumpkin spice lip balm that accompany the first crisp, put-you-in-the-mood-for-apple-picking days of fall.

We might think that fall should offer us a reprieve from the bursting blooms of spring and the sinus crud that often comes in with winter. However, according to Dr. Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, fall is actually quite a fertile time for allergies.

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“In most areas of the country, [fall] is a time of change [with] hot and humid weather easing into the cooler and drier area for the most part of the fall season," he explains. "That generally means ragweed pollen —one of the more prolific pollen producers, as one single plant may produce billions of grains — weed pollen as well as a variety of outdoor and indoor mold spores."

Yes, fall allergies are a thing, & they're not the same as a cold
Image: Getty/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

And, just like that friend who wears her flip-flops well into October, certain elements of the summer — in this case, pollen spores — like to linger on even after bathing suit season ends. The symptoms of autumn allergies aren’t much different from the sneezy, sniffling, bleary-eyed, frog-throated agonies of spring allergies since the pollen and ragweed still trigger the immune system flare-up that releases decidedly un-fun body chemicals like histamines, which cause inflammation and discomfort.

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But there are apples to be picked, haunted houses to run through and many, many jackets to be modeled — so what can you do to stay sneeze-free — or at least minimize your allergies’ impact on your daily life?

Bassett recommends taking your cues from another seasonal staple, the return of football. “Your best defense is a good offense.” What exactly is a good offense? If you’re prone to allergies, going to a doctor and getting a formal allergy test is a great way to start; from there, Bassett says, you and your physician can develop a game plan that may include taking an over-the-counter nasal steroid medicine or oral antihistamines. You should also track the pollen count, and, on extremely high-pollen count days, consider eschewing that hike outdoors and hitting the indoor treadmill.

Though it’s delightful to open the windows on a cool Sunday morning, we’re not just inviting in that ephemerally crisp smell of autumn air — we’re also letting in the pollen. On the still-warm days when you’ve got to run the AC, put it on recirculate and clean out the air filters on the regular. You should shower and wash your hair every night — and don’t worry. There are plenty of pumpkin spice bath bars and shampoos to make bathing a true seasonal experience.

Bassett also recommends using a saline nasal wash to keep your sinuses clean and irrigated. There are also other more fashion-forward ways to protect yourself against pollen and ragweed. Bassett says that wearing sunglasses (especially on windy days) and hats can keep these nasty allergens out of your eyes and your hair.

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Don’t let allergies keep you away from the joys of the fall — after all, that Halloween candy isn’t gonna eat itself. Building a plan with your physician and employing a few commonsense steps can make the difference between sneezing through the season and getting your pumpkin spice on for a long time to come.

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