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How you can prepare now for the upcoming fall allergy season

hands holding tissue, pills, nasal spray bottle
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It may still feel like summer, but allergists are preparing for the arrival of the fall allergy season. Some 23 million Americans suffer from ragweed allergy, with symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy eyes, nose and throat.

The effects of seasonal allergies can be worse in the Tri-State because of the terrain.

“The Ohio River Valley is a particularly bad place for allergies as geography and climate have made it an optimal environment for pollen-producing plants, such as ragweed, so the frequency and severity of allergies are higher in our region," explains Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, Ph.d., an associate professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and UC Health physician.

Plus, there's climate change.

"I've noticed that with increasing fluctuations in temperature and these very big swings in temperature that we've seen increasingly over the last few years, which we've experienced certainly here in the Ohio River Valley — everyone's seeing it — but with our current conditions, it sort of exacerbates things. I think we see a lot more pollen release related to that as well."

He offers the following tips for getting out ahead of your seasonal allergies:

  • In the late summer, before weed pollen levels get too high, begin using a daily over-the-counter nasal steroid spray, and/or taking an antihistamine tablet which is also available without prescription.
  • Use a "pollen tracker" to check the daily pollen count and try to stay indoors on particularly bad days.
  • Wear a mask when you are outside to reduce pollen exposure.
  • Try a saltwater rinse or irrigation to wash out any pollen that may enter the nose and get trapped in nasal mucus.

If your allergies are more severe, he says you may consider immunotherapy or allergy shots.

"For patients whose symptoms remain severe despite all medications, there are even some minimally invasive surgical options that can improve nasal blockage as well as reduce mucus production by isolating and selectively cutting the microscopic nerves that enter the nose and which stimulate mucus production," he adds.

Is it allergies or is it COVID?

Sedaghat, who has studied the current pandemic coronavirus since it first emerged in the United States in 2020, agrees it can be hard to tell allergy and COVID symptoms apart. That's largely because the current omicron variant is associated with more sinus and nasal symptoms.

“From the standpoint of symptoms, allergies are much more likely to manifest with prominent nasal symptoms, in particular sneezing or itching,”

He continues, “Our own studies were the first to show that some COVID-19 patients may have nasal symptoms such as congestion and mucus production, but we also showed that those symptoms tend to be rather mild when occurring during COVID-19.”

Also, if your symptoms respond to allergy medication, that's a good sign it's not COVID-19. Plus, he says, if you know you've been exposed to your allergen, or it's that time of year when your allergies flair up, use that as a guide.

"Sneezing tends to be a very classic allergy symptom. In theory, you can get sneezing with an upper respiratory tract infection, but it tends to be very classic allergy symptoms. So, if you start getting runs of sneezing, that's one thing to think about with respect to allergy."

UC is a financial supporter of Cincinnati Public Radio.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.