Atlanta Allergy & Asthma News

Fall Allergy Season and Virus Season — Are You Prepared?

Updated on Friday, August 25, 2023

Fall allergy season is upon us — and COVID-19 is still present in our communities. Cold and flu season won’t be far behind and overlapping symptoms may cause confusion and concern for some.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis symptoms can include sneezing, running nose, nasal congestion, headaches, itchy/irritated eyes, and scratchy throat. Fall pollens and molds can also aggravate asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, some which overlap with COVID-19 symptoms, please consult your healthcare provider.

Atlanta Allergy & Asthma’s allergists are stressing the importance of getting and keeping allergies and asthma under control as we enter this upcoming season. Respiratory viruses are the most common trigger for asthma exacerbations. Well-controlled allergies and asthma can help reduce the chance of severe complications due to a respiratory illness. The better your baseline health, the better you are able to fight any infection or stressor that comes your way.

Are You Ready for Fall Allergy Season?

If you are a fall allergy sufferer, taking allergy medications prior to peak season can prevent the inflammation that causes your symptoms. By pre-treating, you may lessen the effects of seasonal allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) which can include sneezing, running nose, nasal congestion, headaches, itchy/irritated eyes, and scratchy throat. Fall pollens and molds can also aggravate asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing.

Speak with your Atlanta Allergy & Asthma physician about a management program, including which medications and when to begin treatment for your specific allergic triggers.

What Is the Cause of Allergy Symptoms in the Fall?

Ragweed is the main culprit this time of year. It grows wild almost everywhere, but especially on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Ragweed blooms and releases pollen from August to November, with pollen counts peaking in mid-September. Follow the daily #AtlantaAllergyPollenCount and mold activity on our website or sign up for our newsletter.

Ragweed pollen is very light and can travel far when carried by the wind. Considered the most allergenic of all the pollens, those allergic should avoid being outside during mid-day when counts are highest and follow our other tips for surviving high pollen days.

If you are allergic to ragweed pollen, you may experience itching of the tongue, mouth and lips after eating foods like melons, bananas and zucchini due to cross-reactivity. This is known as Oral Allergy Syndrome and occurs when the immune system reacts to the proteins in certain foods as they are similar to the proteins in pollens.

Other Fall Triggers

Many people who experience allergy symptoms in the fall assume that ragweed is to blame. Although ragweed is a major contributor to the pollen counts this time of year, your allergy symptoms may be caused by any of the plants that bloom in the fall. In addition to traditional fall weed pollens, in the Atlanta area, we have begun to see some tree pollens as well. This may be due to the use of certain trees as ornamentals in landscaping. It is important to know your specific allergic triggers in order to properly treat your symptoms. An allergy skin test is the most accurate way to identify what is causing your symptoms.

Although mold spores are present in the air year-round, mold activity tends to be higher during the warm, humid months. And as leaves begin to fall later in the season, they can compost, keeping mold around well into late fall. If you are allergic to mold, your immune system will trigger an allergic response (runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion) treating the inhaled mold spores as an allergen. Although there are hundreds of types of molds, the most common allergy-causing molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium.

Mold can also grow in damp areas of your house. Check areas like your basement, bathroom and garage and clean these areas with products designed to keep the mold away. Again, an allergy skin test will confirm your sensitivity to mold.

Treatment Options

  • Antihistamines and other allergy medications including nasal sprays.
  • Immunotherapy — a therapy that desensitizes your body to your allergic triggers. There are several forms of IT; speak with your allergist about the most appropriate therapy for you.
    • allergy shots
    • allergy drops
    • allergy tablets — specific to ragweed and grass allergy. (Note: this therapy must be started 12 weeks in advance of the season.)

Action Steps

  • Identify what allergens are causing your symptoms. One of our board-certified allergists will perform an allergy skin test: applying a diluted allergen to the surface of your skin and waiting about 15 minutes to see if there is a reaction, such as a raised red bump that itches.
  • Pre-treat with medication to control symptoms.
  • If recommended, start immunotherapy to start desensitizing your body to your allergic triggers.