Image for article titled Maybe That ‘Virus’ Is Actually a Fall Allergy

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When you get the sniffles or a scratchy throat, you might jump to the conclusion you’re sick—and since the pandemic began, there’s plenty of reason to be anxious about that. Fall and winter usually usher in cold and flu season, but something else might be the cause of your symptoms: You might have fall allergies and not even know it.

What are the most common fall allergy triggers?

You probably know that the pollen all around you can be an allergy trigger, but fall triggers are often overlooked. Dr. Jeanne Lomas, director of allergy services at WellNow Allergy, says are some of the more surprising—but normal—autumnal allergy triggers:

  • Weeds like ragweed, which Lomas said “are the most common fall allergy triggers in most of the U.S.”
  • Molds accumulating on wet leaves
  • Stinging insects like yellow jackets or wasps
  • Indoor allergens like animal dander and dust mites, which you might not have noticed during warmer months when you spent more time outside

Lomas recommends taking extra precautions when working outside in the fall, as stinging insects get more active in late summer and early fall, are most aggressive in August, September, and October, and can cause serious allergic reactions.

She also said that prior to the pandemic, before people started wearing masks more often, allergists noted something they called the “September Spike.” That referred to an increase in illnesses, but also rising levels of pollens like ragweed. According to air purifier manufacturer AprilAire, fall allergies can crop up during what’s known as “second summer,” or autumns when temperatures are unseasonably warm, because the temperatures allow for pollen to keep circulating.

How do you know if you’re sick or experiencing allergies?

As Lomas noted, “There are many symptoms that overlap between allergies and infections,” so it can be challenging to figure out what’s going on. Sneezing, for instance, can be present in both, but eye symptoms—like redness and swelling, especially when they happen along with itching—are much more common with allergies. Any kind of itching, actually, is more of a sign of allergies. That includes ocular itching, but ear and nose itching, too—and you don’t have to have all three.

On the other hand, she said, if you have a fever or “flu-like” symptoms, such as body aches, you may have a viral illness like the flu or COVID-19. A sore throat is another of those symptoms that can crop up in illnesses or allergies, but it’s more common if you have an infection like strep throat or a virus. If you have asthma, wheezing could be a sign of illness or allergies, too.

“If you have recent contact with someone who was ill, you should suspect infection and not allergies,” she said, adding that allergies aren’t contagious. If you’re unsure, go to the doctor.

What to do about fall seasonal allergies

Treatments are very effective, Lomas said, and you might be able to handle this with over-the-counter remedies once you suspect or identify fall triggers as the cause of your symptoms. However, if your symptoms continue to bother you, consider seeing an allergist, who can offer more treatment and testing that will identify specific triggers.

You might be offered immunotherapy, which involves lessening your sensitization to allergens over time by giving you controlled doses, either as an injection or tablet under your tongue.



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