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Managing fall allergies

Vladimer Shioshvili

Constant sneezing, itchy eyes and scratchy throats remind us of what? Allergies. Seasonal allergies can be a pain but knowing how to attack allergy season head on can make all the difference when they come rolling into town.

Dr. Neeta Ogden joins “Take Care,” this week to chat about fall allergies, what triggers them and how they can be properly handled.

Ogden is an adult and pediatric allergist, asthma specialist and immunologist in private practice in New York City. She is a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Like the seasons, allergies come and go but if allergies are ignored or mistreated they tend to overstay their uninvited welcome. A lot of things cause seasonal allergies, but in the fall ragweed tends to be the main perpetrator.

“The keyword with fall allergy is ragweed. Ragweed is a very strong pollen producer and we see it show up around late August and continue through the fall until the first frost even,” Ogden says. “As the years go on, we are seeing that number of ragweed pollen just go up and up.”

Although other weeds and outdoor molds, caused by the piling of fallen leaves, do cause allergies as well, ragweed remains the main source of all that sneezing and itching.

“You kind of can’t escape it. For many, many states -- in the Northeast particularly -- it is going to be extremely troublesome in the fall. You have to be aware of the pollen counts and controlling your exposure,” Ogden says.

With controlled exposure comes knowing when the best and worst times to be outside are.

“It’s been shown that there is a big burst of pollen release in the early morning, between the hours of 5 to 10 a.m.,” Ogden says. “And windy days can be particularly troublesome for allergy sufferers because [ragweed] is a wind-borne pollen.”

But fall allergies do not just show up because of the pollen outside. Sometimes the food we eat can cause allergic reactions such as itching around the mouth. This reaction is called oral allergy syndrome.

“This is an interesting syndrome,” Ogden says. “What we find is that basically pollen and fruits, which come from plants, have shared proteins. So it makes a lot of sense that if you eat a certain food you might experience a reaction to proteins in the food that comes from similar plants.”

Fruits like bananas, cucumbers, zucchini and melons can all be sources of oral allergy syndrome. Ogden says that knowing what causes fall allergies is half the battle and prevention and treatment brings it all full circle.

Stopping symptoms before they even happen is a great way to get ahead of the allergy train.

“If patients take medicine in the fall then they should start them a good two weeks before pollen or the symptoms hit so their body is sort of armed,” Ogden says.

Other non-pharmaceutical prevention options include wearing a face mask when outside, avoiding long periods outdoors (golfing, gardening, tennis, etc.), keeping windows closed, changing clothes after being outside and showering before bed in order to rinse the pollen off.

Ogden says there are websites that show the pollen counts for certain hours of the day and that information can help allergy sufferers plan their days accordingly.

When medicine is needed to help allergies and their symptoms, Ogden says many over-the-counter treatments are available.

“A great place to start is an over-the-counter 24-hour acting antihistamine (Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra) and for many patients that does the trick. Many of these medicines come in a ‘D’ format so they can relieve congestion as well,” Ogden says. The “D” is an abbreviation for decongestant.

Ogden also states that over-the-counter nasal steroids and eye drops are equally as effective, but it is important to stay on top of all symptoms throughout the season.

“You don’t want symptoms to spiral out of control because that could lead to sinus infections, bronchitis or worse,” Ogden says. “If [the medicines] do not work or you have any concerns it is important to see an allergist.”

Seasonal allergies may be annoying but knowing and understanding how they form and what treats them can make a world of difference.