From pumpkin spice lattes to dressing up for Halloween, there are many reasons to look forward to the colorful autumn season. But for some people, the crisp fall air can trigger something far less pleasurable: the start of allergy season, along with itchy eyes and congested noses. Halloween can also be a stressful time for those with food allergies, but there are things we can do to help make the holiday safe and enjoyable for all.
Below, Summit Health allergist and immunologist Rebecca Friess, MD weighs in on how you can limit your exposure to common allergens this fall.
Allergens to Watch Out For
When you step outside during the fall season, you could be vulnerable to weed pollen, including ragweed. "The season for this is typically late summer and early fall, and usually lasts until we see frost on the ground," Dr. Friess says. "Outdoor mold counts are also high in the fall, as mold can grow in piles of fallen leaves as they start to decay. And as the weather gets cooler and people start to spend more time inside, we're also increasing our exposure to common indoor allergens like cats, dogs, and dust mites.”
Have you been sneezing a lot lately? Is your nose running? Do your eyes keep watering? Those are all common symptoms of what's referred to as allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. If you have asthma, fall allergies can also cause wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest.
How to Diagnose and Treat Allergies
To determine your specific allergy triggers, a process called skin prick testing can be conducted in your allergist's office. A tiny amount of liquid containing the allergen is placed on your skin and then lightly pricked or scratched. If the area becomes red and raised, you're likely allergic. Once the correct allergens are identified, your allergist can develop a specific treatment plan that may include avoidance of your allergy triggers, in addition to nasal steroid sprays, oral antihistamines, eye drops, and possibly even allergy shots as needed.
How to Limit Your Exposure
With the right measures in place, you can still enjoy the fall season without worrying about allergies. Dr. Friess suggests the following tips on limiting your exposure:
- Try not to spend time outdoors when pollen and mold spore counts are high.
- Keep windows closed in your car and when sleeping at night.
- Take a shower after spending a long time outside. Make sure to wash your pets too.
- If you have cats or dogs, keep them out of your bedroom.
- Consider getting an air purifier with a HEPA filter.
- To reduce your exposure to dust mites, get a protective cover for your mattress and pillows. Wash bedsheets in hot water once a week and keep humidity in the house below 50 percent.
Tips for Avoiding a Food Allergy Scare on Halloween
Halloween can be a tricky time for kids with food allergies. Even a small amount of a hidden ingredient can cause an allergic reaction that could include hives, swelling, stomach cramps, or even anaphylaxis (constriction of airways, leading to difficulty breathing) in severe cases.
For a safe, allergy-free Halloween, be sure to:
- Talk to your children in advance about the treats they can have or should avoid.
- Read ingredient labels carefully on all the candy your child receives. Smaller size candy may have different ingredients than the full-size candy you are familiar with, or ingredients may have changed.
- Talk to your neighbors about having safe houses where kids can get a non-edible treat or small toy when trick-or-treating. You can even drop those off with your neighbors in advance to make it easier.
- Always carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you. Ensure all caregivers are comfortable recognizing and treating an allergic reaction.