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Pollen Patterns: How to Avoid the Sniffles

By Samantha Kramer, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
August 17, 2012; 10:00 AM

Though we typically associate early spring as a time for itchy noses and watery eyes, there are still plants in the fall that can be just as agitating.

Pollen counts in the air can be high on any given day, depending on the wind's strength and direction, as well as the temperature. The counts are expressed by the number of grains of pollen in one cubic meter of air, and though they typically peak at noon, pollen count can be unpredictable, wrote Dr. Phil Lieberman of American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

The counts are collected using a sampling device placed on rooftops. With a sticky surface, the device collects grains of pollen from the air. The sample is considered representative of the larger region because pollen is so easily spread over a wide area.

"In general, it has been found that pollen counts usually demonstrate lower levels in the early morning, and higher levels in the afternoon," Lieberman wrote on AAAAI's website. "Nonetheless, there are clearcut exceptions to this paradigm depending on location, other climactic conditions, and the particular pollen studied."

Allergy triggers in the autumn months may be different, but they can cause the same amount of misery to its victims. Here are some of the biggest allergies culprits to look out for this fall.

Ragweed

Ragweed is the biggest culprit and affects 10 to 20 percent of Americans with "hay fever" by late summer, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Its pollen can travel hundreds of miles in the wind, which is why the allergy is so widespread.

This yellow-flowered weed begins pollinating in August and can linger well into the fall months until the first frost. Antihistamine medications work best to control the hay fever symptoms that result from ragweed.

Dust Mites

As soon as colder weather kicks in and people begin using their furnaces, these microscopic insects are stirred into the air. These pesky critters are the most common cause of year-round allergies and aggravate 20 million Americans.

It is not the mites themselves that give people allergies, however. The waste products these insects leave off contain a protein that is an allergen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Because dust mites are too small to be seen by the naked eye, they're extremely difficult to get rid of in your home. To lessen the dust allergens, AAFA recommends keeping your home free of dust, and washing your bed and pillow sheets once a week.

Mold

Though an allergy to mold spores is not as common as pollen and dust mites, it is especially dangerous because it can thrive indoors and outdoors, as well as in different climates. Its spores easily become airborne from dry, windy weather, or in fog and dew when the humidity is high.

However, there are very few people who exhibit an isolated mold allergy, according to the AAAAI.

"The vast majority of individuals allergic to molds will also demonstrate allergy to other airborne allergens," Lieberman wrote.

What to do?

Allergies can't be cured; only controlled. Taking medications and keeping your residence clean are the first steps, but you can also view pollen maps like AccuWeather.com's to see what the outdoor pollen counts are like in your area. Stay indoors when pollen is at its peak in the afternoon.

According to WebMd.com, it is helpful to clean heating ducts before using heat for the first time. Use a humidifier to keep the inside of your house at 35 to 50 percent humidity.

Going back to school can mean walking into unknown territory for those with allergies. Dust mites and mold can flourish in school buildings. Keep an eye out for your children heading back to school, as researchers have found there is a sharp spike in these symptoms among children during late September and early October, according to WebMd.com.

Most Common Fall Allergies, Treatment:

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