Fall in Louisiana means football, a break from humidity and lots of sniffling and sneezing.
Seasonal allergies arrive as the leaves begin falling and the ragweed pollen starts to fly.
Allergies don’t let up in south Louisiana just because the temperature cools down, said Dr. Sami Bahna, chief of allergy and immunology at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.
“We have a lot of trees, the grasses are incredible,” he said. “Louisiana always has something.”
Pollen counts for most of the state are high with fall weeds — ragweed, pigweed, sheep sorrel and others — blooming and releasing their pollen. Louisiana’s hot summer and warm autumn weather and high humidity create a perfect environment for the weeds, said Bahna, who is a past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Nasal allergies affect 50 million Americans, according to the ACAAI, and these types of allergies are increasing in America, with 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children suffering from them.
Traditionally, the weed allergy season of late summer and early fall has been called “hay fever,” which Bahna said is misleading.
“The term ‘hay fever’ is a misnomer because there is no hay or fever,” he said.
Just when weed pollens move out, falling leaves can cause mold allergy symptoms in some.
As leaves begin to accumulate later in the season, humid conditions and moist lawns will cause mold to grow. Yard work stirs it up, causing many allergic people who rake their own leaves to get sick.
Unlike those in northern states, Louisianians see little relief from colder weather that eliminates many allergens.
“It will be less, but it will not be completely killed like the areas that have snow and freezing,” Bahna said.
While it seems daunting, Bahna and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology have a few tips to remain healthy in the fall allergy season:
Avoid the allergens if possible. It’s difficult to identify pollen in the fall, Bahna said. Unlike springtime tree pollens, which coat car windshields a bright yellow, weed pollens are often invisible.
“People don’t see it usually,” Bahna said. “It can travel a lot. It travels miles and miles in the wind, very light.”
If the pollen count is high — according to television meteorologists or online pollen forecasts — stay indoors. For those who are allergic to mold, avoid raking leaves or wear a mask while doing yard work.
See a doctor. Allergy and asthma specialists are abundant in Louisiana, Bahna said. But primary care doctors can also examine you to determine whether your rhinitis — inflammation of the nasal passages — is caused by allergies. Trying to fix the problem with over-the-counter medicines can work, but some medicines cause harmful side effects, Bahna said. Some nose sprays that provide temporary relief from congestion can eventually cause another type of rhinitis.
“There is no need for self-medication in an advanced country,” he said.
Use allergy pills for temporary relief. A plethora of allergy medicines that were once only available by prescription are now available over the counter, which has been a boon to pharmaceutical companies, Bahna said. Many patients rely on these instead of seeking help from an allergy specialist.
“Medication can make you feel alright and somewhat better, and you stop it and it reoccurs,” Bahna said.
Some patients will need immunotheraphy — allergy shots that last three to five years or more. Immunotherapy will build an immunity to allergens over time, and eventually the patient could outgrow the allergies.