Warning: Wretched Fall Allergy Season Ahead

by Becky Kellogg weather.com

With this year’s extreme heat, prolonged drought, and ridiculously early spring,  most Americans are celebrating the upcoming arrival of fall.  However, you may not be celebrating long.

This year’s fall allergy season will be worse and will last longer than in recent memory, all thanks to 2012’s wild weather swings for that.

“(Hot temperatures) are telling plants to produce more pollen, in some cases 3-4 times more pollen than usual,” says Dr. Cliff Bassett, a New York allergist and Fellow with the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

What does that mean? Hunker down for a bumper crop of fall allergies, particularly ragweed.

“The ragweed season may be lasting up to 4 or more weeks longer than usual because of all of this warm weather throughout the country,” reports Dr. Bassett.

40 million Americans suffer from allergies which begin surfacing in mid-August.  The most common allergy is ragweed, followed closely by other weeds (goldenrod, sagebrush, pigweed) and mold. Usually, the pollens die off around the first frost but 2012’s heat will likely create a longer fall allergy season this year.

“We’re expecting it to actually go into October into November, in some places where they have more temperate climates,” says Dr. Bassett.

The spring allergy season started in early February in much of the nation due to the mild winter.  That’s as much as two months ahead of schedule.  It has allergy sufferers wondering why we’re seeing such early and prolonged allergy seasons.

“We’re super charging the pollens,” says Dr. Bassett. “It appears that the pollens themselves may be more potent, particularly ragweed.”

Much of that increased potency is tied directly to the weather: there was a lack of killing snows and cold temperatures, a longer growing season in the spring due to early warm temps, and record high temperatures this summer.

“You get that perfect storm of allergies with more pollen, a longer season, hot weather,” says Dr. Bassett.  “It’s sort of like a vicious cycle.”

There are a lot of myths and legends about allergies, how they develop, and the best way to treat them. So we took our questions to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

 Health Warning: Wretched Fall Allergy Season Ahead

Myth: If you’re not born with allergies, you can’t develop them

This allergy myth is definitely false.  Doctors say you can develop seasonal allergies later in life.   So that cold you have, may actually be an allergy.

Myth: The best time to take your allergy medicine is when you start feeling bad

You need to take your allergy medication well before the first grains of pollen start blowing around.  Your body needs time to build up a surplus of allergy medicine.

Myth: I can stop taking my allergy pills once we have the first frost

Continue taking your allergy medicine until a few weeks after the first frost.  The pollen-producing plants may begin to die down after the first frost but the pollen spores will be around for a few weeks.  Also, since pollen can be carried by the wind for several hundred miles you’re still susceptible to pollen from areas that have not yet had a frost.

Myth: Ragweed allergies are only evident by cold-like symptoms such as sniffling and sneezing

Some people’s ragweed allergies are accompanied by a tingly or itchy mouth or throat.  This is called oral allergy syndrome.  Ragweed pollen carries proteins similar to those found in various fruits, vegetables and nuts.  So, just like with food allergies, you can find ragweed pollen affecting your mouth and throat.  The good news is, this is rarely seriously and doesn’t usually cause a life-threatening anaphylactic shock.  However, if you have a tingly or itchy mouth head to your allergist just to be certain it’s not something more serious.