It’s That Other Sneezing, Coughing, Itchy Eye Time of Year

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, we’re already seeing color in the trees and bushes.  Autumn is almost upon us, and while we may be mesmerized by what’s to come – including the vibrant colors, crunching of leaves underfoot and seasonal squash and vegetables — there are a few side effects of fall we might not love, such as allergic reactions to ragweed, respiratory illnesses and the 2017/2018 flu season.

If you’re already sniffling and sneezing, the symptoms may be familiar, but the causes – and diagnosis – may not be as clear. Many respiratory ailments start with sneezing, running eyes and noses, and then may progress to sore throats, coughs, chest pain and fever. Understanding the differences, deciding on treatment options, and when to seek medical attention are important, especially if the patient is young, elderly or suffers from other chronic illnesses.

Beware pneumonia and bronchitis

Pneumonia is a condition of the lungs where the air sac (alveoli) become filled with fluid or pus. The pus in the lungs can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection, which leaves the infected person with a cough containing phlegm.

People with weaker immune systems, such as young children below the age of five and elderly people above the age of 65 are most likely to be affected by the infection. If left unchecked it can be fatal. If bacterial, it can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition where the bronchial tubes and trachea are inflamed. These are the airways that carry air to the lungs. With bronchitis, the airways are constantly irritated, inducing a cough, and the mucus that comes up with the cough is responsible for spreading the infection. The infection that causes bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that spread the common cold and flu.

The primary difference between pneumonia and bronchitis is that while the air sacs in the lungs are infected in pneumonia, it is the airways of the lungs that are affected in bronchitis. Both are respiratory disorders which affect the effective functioning of the lungs, which make it difficult to breathe properly.

But sneezing, coughing and related symptoms aren’t always a sign of a serious illness. Oftentimes, it’s more likely to be seasonal allergies which, though more prevalent in the spring, cause a fair share of autumn suffering, as well.

What causes hay fever in the fall?

Many plant varieties can cause hay fever, but the 17 varieties of ragweed that grow in North America pose the biggest threat. Three out of four people who are allergic to pollen are allergic to ragweed.

A hardy annual, ragweed thrives just about anywhere turf grasses and other perennials haven’t taken root — along roads and riverbanks, in vacant lots, and certainly in your yard or neighborhood. Over the course of a single year, one ragweed plant can produce one billion grains of pollen, which float wherever the breeze carries them, and often are unwelcome visitors in your home, car and workplace.

For hay-fever sufferers, inhaling these tiny particles triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions resulting in the release of histamine, a protein that causes sneezing, congestion, fatigue, coughing, and post-nasal drip; itchy eyes, nose, and throat; dark circles under the eyes; and asthma attacks.

Here are six simple strategies for reducing the severity of hay fever attacks:

  • Make Your Home as pollen-free as possible: During ragweed season, keep your windows shut and the air conditioner on (and do the same while in your car). Running the air conditioner will also help remove moisture from the air, which helps prevent the growth of mold, which also aggravates hay fever symptoms. HEPA air filters can be helpful, especially if your home is carpeted.
  • Wear a Mask: A surgical-style facemask isn’t going to completely protect you from pollen, but it can cut exposure substantially, especially when gardening, mowing the lawn, walking and Look for a facemask with an “N95” rating from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). You should be able to pick one up at a drugstore or home-supply store.
  • Wash your hands and face: Whenever you come in from outside, wash your face and hands. If you’ve been exposed to outdoor air for quite a while, shower and change into fresh clothes. And if you have pets that go outdoors, regular brushing and bathing will help reduce the amount of pollen in their fur.
  • Beware of certain foods that aggravate allergies: Some foods, such as bananas, melons and chamomile contain proteins similar to the ones in ragweed.
  • Beware of pollen counts where you live and work. On days when the pollen count is especially high, stay indoors as possible, or take over-the-counter or prescription medicines before you go out.

If these pollen-avoidance strategies fail to bring relief, consider non-prescription antihistamines. If you’re bothered by congestion as well as sneezing and a runny, itchy nose, adding a decongestant may help. There are also antihistamine/decongestant combinations available. For severe or persistent symptoms, a steroid nasal spray may also be helpful. If you have any medical conditions or questions about what to take, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your options, including generics which cost less and generally work just as well.

Finally, tenderness or pressure in the nasal passages and headaches might be an indication of a sinus infection, which may require antibiotics. And with flu season rapidly approaching, it’s time to schedule your flu shot, which is easily available through your physician’s office, at walk-in clinics, chain drugstores and even in many supermarket pharmacies.


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!