Outdoor allergies are dreaded, though often expected in the spring months due to continuously blossoming, pollinated plants. However, many of the symptoms that accompany spring allergies go hand in hand with the cooler, fall months and aren’t a result of the common cold.
Many regions throughout the United States are taken over by ragweed and mold spores, even when most plants begin to abscise for the winter.
Ragweed, a flowering plant that is commonly found in both the subtropical and tropical areas of North America, is an incredible trigger of fall allergies. Ragweed thrives in warm, dry climates.
“We will see a warmer weather pattern in the Northeast and over the Atlantic this fall,” said Carl Erikson, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather. “With it being drier and warmer, the Northeast and northern Plains will be the worst for ragweed.”
Ragweed will also affect areas of the West Coast, including California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, Erikson explained.
Pollen counts in the Northeast began to rise later than normal this year.
“Typically during the fall pollen season, I’d see pollen rising during the last week of July, and this year, it was the first week in August,” explained David Kerxton, a respiratory therapist and certified pollen counter.
But because the fall season is expected to be warmer than average, the ragweed season could last longer than normal despite the late start.
"With the expectation of temperatures to be above average over much of the East, this will keep the weed-producing plants growing for a longer time," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert.
Due to the warmer weather and the extreme weather caused by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the mid-Atlantic and northern parts of the Southeast will see a spike in ragweed growth.
The areas affected the most by the hurricanes will see higher-than-normal weed pollen levels. While rainfall can wash away pollen temporarily, the increased moisture also causes the plants to continue growing.
"We will see conditions much higher than normal for weed pollen from Kentucky and Tennessee through North Carolina and into Virginia and even southern Pennsylvania," Reppert explained. "This region looks to be the worst pollen areas for the fall."
The only relief this region will see is predicted to come as the freeze comes in - which may take longer than usual due to warmer weather.
The mid-Atlantic can expect to see elevated ragweed pollen counts until mid-October to early November, and the Northeast may suffer until late September.
Aside from ragweed, mold spores will be the second-most common cause of fall allergies. Unlike ragweed, mold spores are common in warm, wet climates.
“The southern Mississippi Valley will experience a wetter, warmer fall that will cause the mold spores to grow throughout the region,” Erikson said.
Both mold spores and ragweed can cause a stuffy nose, itchy red eyes and sometimes a cough.
Oftentimes, the symptoms that come with allergies can be mistaken for a common cold, although there are a few specifics that set the two apart.
“The biggest difference between allergies and a cold is that with allergies you get more of an itchy throat, rather than a sore throat,” said Deborah Gentile, MD, an allergy and asthma immunologist. “When you have allergies, your runny nose is clear rather than the mucus-like runny nose that is associated with a cold.”
Those who suffer from asthma are also more susceptible to respiratory issues prompted by these sources.
“The mid-Mississippi Valley, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa may be less likely to experience the growth of mold spores and ragweed,” Erikson said. “Those areas will receive enough rain to stunt the growth of ragweed, but not enough to cause a lot of mold spore growth.”
These regions will be least affected due to their cooler climates or their average rainfall.
Over the past few years, some areas have seen pollen counts peak due to longer-lasting seasons. This will be the case again this year.
“Because seasons are lasting longer, some people are experiencing symptoms for the first time because they’re being exposed to pollen for longer periods of time,” Gentile said.
There are a number of precautions that those who suffer from outdoor allergies can take to be less affected by the growth of ragweed or mold spores.
“It would help if you’re able to avoid being outdoors during the morning hours from sunrise to late morning; that’s when the pollen dispersal seems to peak,” Erikson said. “It would be best to avoid fields and land where ragweed may be growing, or to try to be out there after a rainfall when that pollen is washed away.”
It is also important to remember to shower as soon as you leave a highly pollinated area; that way, it won’t spread through your home, Gentile explained.
Although the air outside may feel comfortable and refreshing, it’s important to keep doors and windows closed if someone in your home suffers from autumn allergies.
Additionally, a number of over-the-counter remedies are available and it isn’t too soon to begin taking them if you expect to be affected when the season peaks.
It is recommended that anyone who feels that their sleep or day-to-day life is being affected by any symptoms associated with allergies should contact their allergist for a consultation.