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Fighting Off Fall Allergies And Common Winter Ailments

Sneezing, congestion, coughing, and wheezing are definitely not on your Holiday wish list, but somehow, they always seem to be delivered just in time for the seasonal holidays. The crisp air and falling temperatures can also bring a season filled with fall allergy symptoms, sinusitis, bronchitis and flares of asthma. So to be ahead of the game, take measures to protect yourself from these common fall and winter ailments.

What Are Fall Allergies?

Fall allergies are caused by common environmental allergens in the air at that time of year such as ragweed pollen and mold spores. Ragweed pollen is by far the most common cause of fall allergies and the pesky plant will pollinate from September through the end of October. Fallen leaves along with wetness from rain will produce mold exposure. There may be a general musty odor to the air. Some allergy sufferers can also react to non-allergic irritant triggers in the fall such as the change in humidity and barometric pressure during Autumn. Symptoms of fall allergies commonly include: nasal congestion, sneezing fits, runny nose, itchy watery eyes, sinus pressure, headaches, cough, and inability to breath comfortably.

What Can I Do to Avoid Fall Allergies ?

There are a few things you can do to reduce symptoms and avoid contact with fall allergens altogether. By staying indoors more often, you can avoid ragweed and other respiratory irritants that may be floating through the air. However, remember that dust mites and mold can still gather indoors too. Try not to keep too many plants in the house which may gather moldy leaves. Keep your air as clean as possible by checking and replacing filters often. Check online pollen count reports in order to get a forecast of the week’s air quality, making it easier for you to plan your outdoor excursions.
Allergy medications such as OTC antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays can be helpful for both allergic and irritant types of triggers. Its important to stay on top of your allergy medications and start them in early August to stay ahead, before ragweed comes out and mold spores spread.

What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is the swelling of the sinuses from infection or the environment.  Sinuses are small air pockets found behind your forehead and cheek bones or on either side of the nose. Sinusitis can be caused by an infection with viruses, bacteria, and mold or from environmental allergens.  When your sinuses get blocked from the swelling, you may develop symptoms of a stuffy nose, headache, and drainage of green to yellow colored mucus. This could also trigger a cough. Low grade fever and tooth pain are less common.

What is the Difference between Bronchitis and Asthma?

Bronchitis is swelling of the large airways in your lungs that can result in a bad wet cough. This is commonly due to infections from viruses and bacteria but may be caused by allergies as well. Asthma is a swelling of the smaller airways in the lungs that usually results in a dry hacking cough accompanied by a whistling sound or wheeze. Winter asthma can be triggered by infections, exercise, or even laughter when you are having a jolly time during the holidays! Other major triggers include indoor allergens such as dust mites, molds and pet dander. Breathing in cold air alone can lead to coughing and wheezing attacks. Winter time is also chock full of respiratory viruses and germs that commonly cause asthma.

What Can I Do?

Good hand washing is very important in the winter time to stop the spread of germs that trigger asthma, and ones that can lead to bronchitis or sinusitis.  If you have indoor allergies and/or asthma make sure you are are using a preventative maintenance medication that has been prescribed by your doctor.  Salt water sinus irrigations can be helpful during this time as well, as they will flush out all the allergens and microbes. If the asthma gets worse be sure to visit your doctor to change your medication for better control. If you think you have developed bronchitis or a sinus infection, see your doctor, as you may need antibiotics and decongestants to treat it properly.

Beware of the Flu Bug…

The fall and winter months present plenty of opportunities for viruses to spread. Chilly weather keeps more of us indoors and the holiday season brings together family members of all ages. The cold and flu (influenza) can occur anytime, but appear mostly in the fall and winter. For most people, viral respiratory illnesses are usually mild and last only a few days. The flu however can be severe, especially if you are elderly or have a compromised immune system. Even if you are healthy, the flu bug can make you feel lousy with a fever, sore throat, muscle aches, joint pains and extreme fatigue. Breathing problems can also become serious, especially in asthmatics. An annual influenza vaccination is a smart way to avoid one of the most common triggers of winter asthma.
Talk to your doctor about ways you and your family can stay healthier this fall and winter. Stay warm and enjoy the holidays !!!
-Dr. Shaz Siddiqi

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