Allergy Sufferers Prepare For Fall

Seasonal allergies affect millions of Americans every year.

But the fall season brings a slew of different irritants to plague seasonal allergy sufferers.

Do you know how to cope with the upcoming allergy season?

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay has answers.

Seasonal allergies - also known as allergic rhinitis or hayfever - are caused when the immune system overreacts to irritants in the environment, like plant and tree pollen or mold spores, says Senay.

Each season brings a different irritant.

In the spring, it's tree pollen. In the summer, the culprit is mainly grass.

In the fall, weeds are usually the biggest problem from late August through October.

Here are some common fall allergy triggers:

  • Ragweed
  • Pigweed
  • Plantain
  • Sheep sorrel
  • Sagebrush
  • Other pollen-producing weeds
  • Molds, late-blooming trees
This year some parts of the country may experience more weed pollen and mold than normal. This is due to a wet summer season that is fueling weed and mold growth.

Who's at risk?

"Those most as risk for seasonal allergies," according to Dr. Senay, "would be those whose symptoms began in early childhood, and often peak between 20-to 45-years of age."

"The likelihood that a person will have an allergic reaction depends on a variety of factors, including the type and intensity of allergen exposure, and genetic factors," says Dr. Senay.

Surveys have shown that only half of sufferers considered their allergies to be a serious medical condition.

Many sufferers don't consult with a doctor about managing their allergies. In many cases people confuse allergies with colds.

Allergy Symptoms

"Allergic reactions range from mild ones like sneezing to more serious and potentially life-threatening problems like asthma," says Dr. Senay.

These are some allergy symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Skin irritations
  • Breathing problems
"Although many of these symptoms are relatively mild, over time they can cause fatigue, insomnia and problems with concentration and work performance.

They can also increase the risk of ear infections and sinusitis," says Dr. Senay.

Preventing Allergies

"It's useful to get a test to determine exactly what you're allergic to and take steps to avoid contact with it as much as possible."

Ways to avoid allergies:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Keep your windows closed.
  • Wash your bedding regularly.
  • Wash your hair, and shower before going to bed.
"It's a good idea generally to keep your house as clean as possible."

Fear not – there are ways to treat allergies if you can't avoid them.

Dr. Senay says a number of drug treatments are available both over-the-counter and by prescription, including nasal steroids, antihistamines and decongestants.

"You should talk to your doctor to find the best treatment. Antihistamines can be very helpful for itchy eyes and runny nose, but they may not relieve nasal congestions," she says.

Some antihistamines also cause drowsiness. There are some less-sedating ones available over-the-counter now.