Fall is a time of damp streets and changing colors, when the bright pinks and oranges of spring and summer give way to the rusts and ambers of falling leaves. So if all those vibrant, pollen-filled plants are gone and even the trees are giving up, you might be wondering, “why the heck am I still sneezing!?”
While springtime and early summer get most of the allergy blame, it’s not uncommon for people to have itchy eyes and clogged noses through Labor Day and Halloween. It simply depends on whether you have a reaction to the specific allergens that arise in the fall.
Tree and grass pollens are the main contributors to allergies from early spring through summer. During the fall, weed pollens become the main culprits. Our deepest condolences if you have reactions to all three allergens (“Pollen Count Map” 2016).
Ragweed tends to be the most bothersome of the fall weed pollens. Depending on where you live, ragweed can start pollenating in mid-August and can cause irritation until a hard freeze. Mold also wreaks havoc on allergies in the fall. The spores tend to release in more humid weather or on dry and windy days. Mold is also more likely to flourish inside homes during the damp days of fall (“Four Things…” 2014).
A Real Eyesore
When the eyes come in contact with an allergen, they attempt to fight it off by creating a substance called histamine. This reaction is called allergic conjunctivitis. As a reaction to the production of histamine, your eyelids and conjunctiva—the thin film inside your eyelids and over the whites of your eyes—become red, swollen, and itchy. This causes a burning sensation and excess tears (“What Are Eye Allergies?” 2015).
These eye symptoms are usually accompanied by an itchy, stuffy nose and sneezing. It goes without saying that the whole experience is awful. It’s the kind of constant aggravation that, if left untreated, might cause you to look into building a giant freeze ray to wipe out all that pesky pollinating plant life from the planet for good.
Luckily, with some helpful tricks and the miracles of modern medicine, you should be able to find some relief from your fall allergies. Then, with all that time you save by not building a giant freeze ray, you can focus on the real fun to be had during the fall season!
Staying clear-eyed and sniffle-free in the fall isn’t all about medicine. Changing your habits to help avoid pollen exposure can be just as helpful.
Know thine enemy
Avoiding what bothers you is a good place to start in allergy defense. But that’s hard to do if you don’t know what to avoid. Start with a visit to an allergist to determine what allergens are affecting you. Armed with this knowledge, your allergist can then help you create a more individualized plan for avoiding those specific irritants (Burling-Phillips 2008).
Never leave the house
It’s true: outside is where the pollen is. You’ll probably have to leave the house sometime, though, so it can be helpful to track the pollen counts and find out when they are at their lowest; many websites offer pollen tracking features. When you can, it’s a good idea to stay indoors on days with high pollen counts. Avoid leaving the windows open, and instead, try using air conditioning filters designed to trap allergens in the air. You can use one at home or in the car when you’re on the go. These units work best when cleaned and regularly maintained, so try to replace the filters frequently (“Eye allergy treatment” 2015).
Regardless of the time of day, wind can make things worse by spreading pollen around and blowing it onto your skin and clothing (Burling-Phillips 2008). For extra eye protection, you can try wearing glasses—especially the wrap-around kind (“Eye allergy treatment” 2015).
Skip your chores
…or do more of them. Some activities, like raking leaves during the fall, can stir up pollen and mold spores and worsen symptoms. On the other hand, it might help to grab a mop and wipe up the allergens that you track inside your home (Burling-Phillips 2008).
If mold irritates you, consider frequently cleaning basements, bathrooms, kitchens, and other damp areas where mold is prone to grow. You can also make particularly damp areas inhospitable to mold by using a dehumidifier (“Eye allergy treatment” 2015). Whatever the chore, wearing a mask approved for filtering out allergens can be beneficial. (“Four Things…” 2014).
One of the ways pollen spreads itself is to stick to the fur of a moving creature, or in the case of us humans, our cozy fall sweaters. Pollen will settle for sticking onto anything—skin, hair, eyelashes, clothing, etc., so wash your bedding and clothing frequently to rid yourself of hitchhiking pollen. In order to avoid prolonged exposure to allergens, it’s a good idea to shower more often during allergy season and especially before bed. It can be helpful to gently cleanse your eyelids as well (Heiting 2016).
Allergy sufferers who wear contacts might find it extremely difficult to keep their eyes comfy during allergy season. Allergens and other debris tend to stick to the surface of contact lenses, making the eyes miserable. It may be necessary to avoid contact use during the allergy season or to switch over to disposable contacts (Heiting 2016).
If you’re a contact lens wearer and you experience discomfort during—or even outside of—allergy season, then you may be suffering from dry eye. If so, a treatment called punctal occlusion could provide relief from your symptoms. Learn more about punctal occlusion for contact lens wearers.
It sure is tempting to rub your eyes when they get itchy. It seems like the perfect solution! But it can actually lead to bigger problems. Scratching or rubbing your eyes causes MORE histamine to be produced and leads to further symptoms (Heiting 2016).
Still feel like you have pollen in the eyes? It might be time to look into some medicinal assistance for allergy season.
Cleaning, hiding indoors, and ducking out of the way of sneaky pollen isn’t enough for some people. To ensure the best defense against allergy season, you might want to add some form of medicine to your arsenal. There are a lot to choose from, so consult your doctor in order to achieve the best results.
There are over-the-counter antihistamines and artificial tears that are available at many grocers and drugstores. Artificial tears can help remove allergens from the eyes and moisturize them in the process. Decongestant eye drops are designed to remove redness from the eyes and may also contain an antihistamine to address eye itchiness. Be sure to check the label for proper use instructions, as these drops may increase irritating symptoms if used for more than a few days (Heiting 2016).
Oral antihistamines help some people address the redness and irritation in their eyes, but be careful: they may dry out eyes and even worsen some allergic symptoms (“Eye allergy treatment” 2015). Antihistamines have been linked to a reduction in tear secretion and, thus, can cause symptoms of dry eye or worsen symptoms for those already suffering. Be aware of this risk and consult a doctor before use. A decrease in tear production can be extra bothersome in allergy season when the eyes are already fighting hard to wash away irritants and stay comfortable (“Causes of Dry Eye” 2014).
If OTC medicines fail, it may be helpful to look into medically prescribed options. Your doctor can guide you toward the best course of action.
Antihistamines and decongestants are available in stronger, prescription forms and in combinations that include both. Your doctor might also recommend mast cell stabilizers, which seek to halt the production of histamine and other mediators of an allergic reaction at their source (Heiting 2016).
If your eye irritation symptoms are severe, you may benefit from using non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory (NSAID) eye drops or eye drops that include corticosteroids. Another helpful treatment, immunotherapy, involves receiving small injections of an allergen in order to build up an immune response to it (Heiting 2016).
And the Most Important Thing…
Fall is a time for food, family, and festivities, so don’t let itchy, watery eyes rain on your parade. Seasonal allergies are extremely irritating, and while certain treatments provide relief to some, they may fail for others. The important thing is to keep trying. Carving a jack-o’-lantern is hard enough; don’t risk your fingers by trying to cut out that spooky smile through red, watery eyes.
- “Today’s AccuWeather Pollen Count Map.” All About Vision. 2016.
- “Four Things You Might Not Know About Fall Allergies.” American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. 2014.
- Boyd, Kierstan. “What Are Eye Allergies?” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2015.
- Burling-Phillips, Leslie. “Pollen, Dust & Mold: Seasonal Allergies Assault the Eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2008.
- Boyd, Kierstan. “Eye allergy treatment.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2015.
- Heiting, Gary OD. “Eye Allergies: How to Get Relief From Itchy, Watery Eyes.” All About Vision. 2016.
- Boyd, Kierstan. “Causes of Dry Eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2014.