Nothing says fall like cozy sweaters, warm cups of tea, and, for some people, a runny, itchy nose. Or swollen, watery eyes. Or other allergy symptoms. Unfortunately, autumn, that beloved season full of great activities (apple picking!) and even greater drinks (cider!) can wreak complete havoc on some people with seasonal allergies.
Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to typically harmless substances as if they’re dangerous intruders, according to the Mayo Clinic. In response, your immune system releases the chemical histamine, which gives rise to allergy symptoms, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). These symptoms can include the aforementioned irritated nose and eyes, but they can also become dangerous if, say, you have asthma, and allergies trigger an asthma attack. This is known as allergic asthma, and it’s a beast.
The good news is that there are tons of ways to handle fall allergies. Some tips apply no matter what you’re allergic to, and others are pretty specific to certain allergens. Either way, the following expert-approved list has good ways to start getting your fall allergies under control.
1. Know which allergens are most common in the fall.
One of fall’s main culprits is ragweed, a plant that produces a massive amount of pollen in the fall, Alice Hoyt, M.D., an allergist in the allergy and clinical immunology department at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF.
Mold is another big one because it’s especially prone to accumulating in fallen leaves during autumn, Dr. Hoyt explains. When you rake (or, ahem, jump into) leaves, mold spores release into the air and can cause allergy symptoms.
Then there are dust mites. As Dr. Hoyt explains, these microscopic, “nasty little creatures” love to live in anything upholstered in your home and feed off your dead skin flakes (delicious). They can be year-round irritants, but as the weather cools, you’re likely to spend more time indoors and increase your exposure, William Reisacher, M.D., otolaryngic allergist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF. Also, dry winter air means people often crank up their humidifiers, Dr. Hoyt adds. Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments.
2. Make sure your symptoms are actually due to allergies.
“Many people can have symptoms in the fall, and [they’re] not related to allergies,” says Dr. Reisacher. For instance, high concentrations of mold spores can cause irritation even when you’re not allergic, he explains.
If it helps, a major sign that you’re actually allergic to something is experiencing itchiness, says Dr. Hoyt, whether that’s in your eyes, nose, or skin. This is because the histamine that your body pumps out when faced with an allergen creates an itching sensation.
Still, you won’t know that you’re allergic for sure unless you do allergy testing, Dr. Reisacher says. There are different ways to do this, like with a “prick test,” where small amounts of common allergens are placed just below the surface of your skin to see if they cause a reaction, blood drawing, and more.
It may seem pointless to schlep yourself to an allergist for confirmation of something you think you already know, but if you can do it, you should, Dr. Hoyt says. Figuring out what’s causing your allergies can help you better safeguard yourself. Here’s everything you need to know about allergy testing so that you’re prepared.
3. Check the pollen and mold counts before you head outside.
There are tools you can use to keep tabs on how much of these allergens are floating around, just waiting to ruin your day. For instance, if you search for your location in Accuweather’s database, then click the little icon at the top right of the page that says “allergies,” you’ll get a specific report on pollen and mold counts in your area.
4. Wear protective accessories like a hat and sunglasses, too.
If a ton of pollen and mold spores are wafting through the air, they can get all over your hair, Dr. Hoyt says. Hence the hat.
The same goes for eyewear: Wearing glasses or sunglasses might help prevent airborne allergens from affecting your eyeballs as much. Just make sure you wash the glasses off frequently, Dr. Hoyt says.
5. Use a face mask when you rake (or play in) the leaves.
No, not a skin-care face mask, although that would be interesting. Instead, Dr. Hoyt recommends that you wear an N95 mask if you’re going to be raking leaves (or doing other yard work). These masks help prevent tiny mold particles and other allergens from entering your airway while you’re raking. Try finding them at your basic hardware store or online.
6. Keep doors and windows closed when your allergens are plentiful, and use filtration systems, too.
Shutting doors and windows unless absolutely necessary is Fall Allergy 101, and it’s good to try to filter your home’s air on top of that. “Even a basic air condition filter will filter out the large pollen particles,” Dr. Reisacher says. Of course, the fall weather may be too cool for an air conditioner. In that case, look at HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, particularly for your bedroom, he says. These are designed to filter out really small air particles and allergens.
7. If you can, wait until after 10 A.M. to go outside.
Though this varies, pollen counts tend to be highest between 5 and 10 A.M., according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Obviously, some activities—like going to work—may require you to leave your home early in the morning. But if you’re able to choose when to go out for something like errands, waiting until at least the afternoon may be your best bet, Dr. Reisacher says.
8. Remove your “outside” clothes when you get home.
Being outside is like being in Las Vegas: What happens there doesn’t stay there, so pollen, mold spores, or other allergens can hitch a ride on your clothes and into your home. With that in mind, when you’re home, try to wear clothes you’ve designated as indoor-only, Dr. Reisacher says.
9. Clean your home at least once a week.
Great news for the fastidiously neat among us: Cleaning your home at least once a week is a great way to get rid of allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and mold spores, according to the AAAAI.
In an ideal world, this would be a top-to-bottom clean involving every room in your home, the organization explains. Can’t swing that? Relatable. At least focus on your bedroom and other spaces where you relax most often since dust mites love to burrow into items like your bed, upholstered sofas, and other spots great for lounging. Here are some useful tips for cleaning when you have allergies.
10. Shower (and possibly wash your hair) before bed.
Cozying up with allergens doesn’t exactly lead to restful sleep, so you should consider taking a shower before you to go bed, Dr. Hoyt explains. Washing your hair can also be a good idea, depending on how much your allergies are acting up and how that might affect your hair-care routine (which we all know can be a delicate, magical balancing act).
11. Use allergy-proof covers for your bedding, and wash your sheets at least once a week.
Allergy-proof covers for objects like your mattress, comforter, and pillows can be very effective in protecting from allergens like dust mites, Taha Al-Shaikhly, M.D., an allergy and immunology fellow at UW Medicine, tells SELF. The covers are widely available, so here’s how to choose the best ones for you.
Using these covers doesn’t mean you can skip on laundry day, unfortunately. At least once a week, you should wash your sheets, pillows, and blankets in hot water, the AAAI says. Don’t hang them up to dry outdoors where they can collect allergens!
12. Get a dehumidifier for your bedroom.
If you have a dust mite allergy, humidifiers aren’t your friend. To avoid creating the perfect environment for those little mites, experts recommend keeping the humidity in your home below 50 percent, says Dr. Al-Shaikhly. Consider getting a dehumidifier for important areas, like your bedroom. If your dehumidifier doesn’t also measure and display the humidity in your home, you can buy a device called a hygrometer to do just that.
13. Have medications for your allergies (and asthma, if necessary) ready to go in case any of these preventive measures don’t work.
No matter how well you prepare for fall allergies, symptoms might still show up to ruin the party. It’s smart to have your medications on you at all times, just in case. Those may be nasal sprays to reduce congestion, oral antihistamines to combat that frustrating chemical response, or a quick-relief inhaler in case certain allergens give you asthma attacks. The best defense here is really a good offense.