Fall Allergies: Everything You Need to Know

Fall allergies occur in the autumn months from September through December. They may be a combination of indoor and outdoor allergies. Since they occur during months when illnesses are more common, people sometimes have difficulty discerning whether they are sick or experiencing allergy symptoms.

This article explains symptoms, causes, and treatment options for fall allergies.

Person with long black hair stands on a busy sidewalk, blowing their nose

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More than 50 million Americans experience various allergies every year.

Symptoms

Fall allergy symptoms occur when your body produces excessive histamine, a chemical that protects your body from foreign substances. With allergies, the immune system misinterprets allergens as harmful and attacks them. 

This immune reaction results in many symptoms that can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

Allergic asthma occurs when allergens prompt an asthma attack. When this happens, you may experience wheezing, coughing, and have trouble catching your breath. These responses can be life-threatening if not controlled, so if you have allergic asthma, be sure to work with a healthcare provider to manage it.

Causes

Fall allergies may be caused by both indoor and outdoor allergens

Dust

Dust allergies result from an allergy to dust mites, microscopic organisms that live in bedding, upholstery, carpeting, and other soft surfaces. Since dust mites thrive indoors, dust mite allergies occur year-round.

While you can’t eliminate dust mites, you can reduce your exposure to them by:

  • Reducing indoor humidity to less than 50%
  • Covering mattresses and pillowcases with allergy covers
  • Washing bedding regularly in hot water
  • Dusting regularly
  • Replacing carpets with hard floors

Pets

Pet dander is a common source of year-round allergies for many people. Dander isn't an allergy to pet hair, as some mistakenly believe, but rather a pet's skin. However, pet allergies may be exacerbated by shedding breeds because pet hair can carry the dander.

To reduce your pet allergy symptoms, try the following:

  • Keep your pet out of your bedroom
  • Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter
  • Change clothes and wash hands frequently
  • Keep your pet bathed and well-groomed

Mold

Mold is an indoor and outdoor allergen. Indoors, it grows in moist places where water gathers or condenses, like kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Outdoors, you’ll find it in leaf piles, rotting logs, and compost piles. 

You can reduce your exposure to mold by:

  • Limiting time outside when mold counts are high
  • Wear a mask when mowing the lawn or working in the garden
  • Keeping indoor humidity below 50%
  • Reduce moisture in bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry areas
  • Use a dehumidifier

Pollen

Pollen is responsible for many seasonal allergies during the spring, summer, and fall months. Depending on the season, different pollens may be culprits for your allergy symptoms. For example, the most common culprit in the spring is trees, late spring to mid-summer is grass pollen, and in the late summer, it’s weed pollen.

In the fall, the most common pollen allergy is ragweed.

What Is Pollen?

Pollen is a powdery substance produced by seeding plants. This substance is released into the air so that birds and insects can spread it to fertilize plants. 

Pollen allergies are also known as outdoor allergies, environmental allergies, and hay fever. These allergies can be frustrating because it’s challenging to mitigate exposure without staying exclusively indoors. However, there are some things you can try, including:

  • Keep windows closed
  • Check pollen counts and avoid outdoor activity when they are high
  • Shower and wash your clothing after being outdoors
  • Do not hang clothes outside to dry
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses to avoid pollen getting in your eyes

COVID vs. Allergies

COVID-19 and allergies share many symptoms, including nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, and fatigue. However, there are some ways to tell them apart.

COVID-19
  • Sometimes causes a fever

  • Does not cause itching

  • Body aches

  • Exhaustion may be extreme

  • Loss of taste or smell

  • Dry cough

Allergies
  • Does not produce a fever

  • Itchy, watery eyes

  • Does not cause aches

  • Usually only mild fatigue

  • Usually no loss of taste or smell, but could be dulled due to congestion

  • Wet cough with phlegm

When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to take a COVID-19 test to be sure.

Treatment

While there is no cure for allergies, there are many ways to manage symptoms.

Nasal Spray

Nasal sprays are the most effective line of treatment for nasal allergies. Steroid nasal sprays work by reducing inflammation in your sinuses. Common steroid nasal sprays include Nasonex (prescription) and Flonase (available over-the-counter). 

In addition, saline nasal sprays are a saltwater solution that can help relieve dryness and congestion. 

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are medications that block histamine, the chemical responsible for your allergy symptoms. Antihistamines effectively treat allergy symptoms, including itchy and watery eyes, and sneezing. 

These drugs are available over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription. A common side effect of older antihistamines (known as first-generation medications) was sleepiness and sedation. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an example of a first-generation drug that causes drowsiness. 

However, second-generation medications, like Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine), do not carry this same side effect. As a result, many people prefer them for this reason. 

Decongestants

Decongestants work by shrinking your blood vessels to help ease congestion. Sudafed and Afrin are examples of OTC decongestants. 

While they are effective, they are intended for short-term use because longer-term use can result in dependence and rebound congestion (nasal congestion that worsens from dependence on decongestant medication).

Home Remedies

People often use a combination of medication and home remedies to treat their allergy symptoms. However, limiting exposure to allergens is the best way to manage allergies. 

Use a Dehumidifier

Keeping indoor humidity low can reduce allergens like dust mites and mold. Try keeping a dehumidifier in damp areas, like the basement, for the best effect. 

Clean Your Vents

The vents in your home are an often overlooked spot that can harbor lots of dust. Consider having your ducts cleaned on a consistent schedule. In addition, remember to replace your furnace filter every few months.

Stay Inside at Peak Times

If you have pollen allergies, keep an eye on pollen counts and stay indoors during peak pollen times. If this isn’t feasible, mitigate in other ways like keeping windows closed and showering and washing your clothes after you’ve been outside. 

Summary

Fall allergies occur in September through December. Allergy symptoms include sneezing, coughing, congestion, a runny nose, and more. Fall allergens include dust, mold, pet dander, and pollen. Antihistamines and nasal sprays are some of the over-the-counter medications that are used to treat fall allergies, along with home remedies, such as using a dehumidifier and regularly cleaning out vents at home.

A Word From Verywell

If you have fall allergies, you may benefit from a layered mitigation strategy that includes limiting exposure to allergens, medication, and at-home remedies. In addition, allergy testing can help you pinpoint your allergens, which can help you know which things to avoid.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When do fall allergies start?

    Fall allergies begin late summer into early fall, when fall plants, like ragweed, begin to release pollen.

  • When do fall allergies end?

    Fall pollen allergies usually subside around the first frost. So, when you can expect to find relief from fall allergies depends on the climate where you live.

  • How long do fall allergies usually last?

    Depending on the climate where you live, fall pollen allergies may last a few months.

  • What is the most common fall allergy trigger?

    The most common fall pollen allergy is ragweed. Mold, which you can find indoors and outdoors in the fall, is also a common fall allergy.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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