In the past year and a half of the pandemic, you’ve probably spent more time indoors than ever before. But when you and many other people in the country go outside to enjoy the fall weather, don’t be surprised if your allergies get worse than usual this year.
It’s not in your head — allergists say it can definitely feel like this allergy season is more intense than usual. “Shelter in place and wearing masks during the COVID pandemic may have prevented exposure to airborne allergens that cause allergic rhinitis,” allergist and immunologist Dr Patricia Takach, an associate professor of medicine at Penn Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
So while you most likely wore a face mask outdoors last year, this year you may not be wearing one as often while out as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that — with some exceptions – you don’t need to wear a mask in most outdoor environments.
As a result, however, you’re exposed to all those fall allergens that can trigger your allergy symptoms — even though you missed most of them last year. “You may not be used to the exposure,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with: Allergy and Asthma Network in New York, Yahoo Life tells. Cue even more runny noses, sneezing and stuffiness.
It’s very possible that you just got worse after staying at home last year, reducing exposure to fall allergens. “Allergy symptoms can get even worse after re-exposure to an allergen you haven’t been exposed to in a while,” dr. David B. Corry, professor of pathology & immunology and medicine and vice chairman of immunology at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
If you have an allergy, “your immune system overreacts to an allergen by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE),” according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals and trigger an allergic response,” leading to telltale allergy symptoms like a runny nose.
Surprisingly, frequent exposure to allergens can even partially lower the amount of these activating antibodies in your bloodstream. But if you haven’t been exposed to those allergens for a while — for example, because you’ve spent a lot of time indoors — IgE levels can build up, causing even worse allergy symptoms the next time you’re exposed.
There’s also this to consider: It can appear as if you have worse symptoms in the past, even if you don’t actually have them. “It’s certainly possible to experience seemingly more extreme symptoms when, in fact, your reaction is the same as before, as a psychological consequence of not having allergy symptoms in a while,” says Corry.
And if you stop taking your preventive allergy medication because you assume you’d feel as good as last season, that could also make things worse, notes Parikh.
If you find yourself living in fall allergy-induced misery, there are a few things you can do to get relief. One is making it easier to spend more time outdoors, rather than suddenly spending a long time outside, dr. Ted Kelbel, chief of allergy and immunology at Spectrum Health, tells Yahoo Life. “If you’re already feeling symptoms, it may not be a good idea to spend any time outside for extended periods of time,” he says. Kelbel also recommends keeping your windows closed and running your air conditioner, especially at night, so you don’t inhale allergens while you’re trying to sleep.
Takach suggests a few more hacks to help ease your symptoms:
Wash your face after going outside.
Use a saline nasal spray to clear allergens from your nose.
Wash your hair at night to limit exposure to allergens before bed.
If fall allergies are a constant problem for you, it’s important to see a board-certified allergist, Parikh says, and ideally before the fall allergy season starts. That way, she explains, you can get started on appropriate preventative medications for your allergies to increase the chances of feeling comfortable once the season really gets going.
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