Fall seasonal allergies are ramping up, and this year, the impact of smoke from the ongoing Canadian wildfires on the air quality in our region may also cause challenges for people who suffer from asthma and allergies.
WellSpan expert, Dr. Anna Grigoryeva, lead physician, WellSpan ENT and Hearing Services, shares information about allergies and how to stay safe during poor air quality and high pollen days.
First of all, why does my nose get stuffy in the fall?
Ragweed pollen is the source of many common fall allergy symptoms. It grows throughout the United States and releases pollen from August to November. Typically, ragweed pollen counts are highest in mid-September and may start to drop in mid to late October.
Other plants that can trigger fall allergies include:
- Burning bush
- Sagebrush and mugwort
- Tumbleweed and Russian thistle
How does poor air quality impact my allergies or asthma?
While firefighters work to contain the Canadian wildfires, winds could turn a certain way and impact our regions. As a result, toxic smoke can produce tiny particles that can be inhaled and irritate or damage the lungs. It can cause coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma attacks, stinging eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose and irritated sinuses, headaches, and more.
Prolonged or repeated exposure to wildfire smoke could have long-term impacts on the cardiovascular system and lungs. Long-term exposure causes irritation and inflammation which lead to scars in the lungs.
In addition, smoke, dust, and emissions from cars and factories can create poor outdoor air quality, which can also worsen asthma and allergy symptoms.
What can I do to avoid poor air quality days and the dangers of smoke?
- Keep the indoor air as clean as possible.
- Close windows and doors.
- Use a high-efficiency air filter to reduce indoor air pollutants.
- Change the air filter on your furnace/heat pump/air conditioner every few months.
- Avoid smoking tobacco, burning candles, using wood burning stoves or fireplaces, and vacuuming (which stirs up dust and other particles).
- Use the air conditioner in the car if it’s still warm outside.
- Drink a lot of water, which removes irritants from your body and helps reduce a scratchy throat and coughing.
- Reduce time spent in smoky areas such as near a campfire or near tobacco smoke.
- Avoid outdoor activities and limit your workouts to indoor gyms.
- Wear proper protection, like an N95 mask, if you have to be outside.
How do I know if I have an allergy or a sinus infection?
Fall is a common time of year for sinus infections due to plant pollen, air conditioning, and the start of school, where viruses are easily transmitted from one person to the next. Allergies can cause sinus infections by increasing inflammation and swelling inside the nose.
What can I do about my allergy symptoms?
If you can’t stay inside, wear a simple mask when you are outside to help decrease your exposure to typical fall allergens, Dr. Grigoryeva suggests.
“Also, use nasal saline rinses daily during allergy season followed by a nasal steroid nasal spray,” she adds.
In addition, over the counter medicines, like antihistamines will help relieve symptoms. Decongestants will help, too, but patients with high blood pressure and heart conditions should first consult their doctors.
“If symptoms are severe, I strongly recommend getting checked with a careful physical exam, including nasal endoscopy to evaluate for other conditions including an infection or nasal polyps,” Dr. Grigoryeva says.”
Allergy testing may also be necessary which includes skin or blood allergy tests.
To learn more about these and other services at WellSpan ENT, visit ENT & Hearing Services - WellSpan Health