Is it a cold or fall allergies? 7 questions with Ketura Talbot, M.D.

By Kristy Bleizeffer Sep 20, 2017

Ambrosia artemisiifolia, better known as ragweed, is blooming this time of year and its pollen is a major trigger for fall allergies. Here, female ragweed flowers are shown in the leaf axil. (Photo by Meneerke Bloem via Wikepedia Commons.)

Not all people mark the change of season by the weather. For some, it's their runny noses, watery eyes and itchy throats that signal the start of fall.

If you suffer from fall allergies, this can be the worst time to step outside. The start of school also makes it a tricky time to tell what’s making you feel so crummy – and what you should do about it. Below, Dr. Ketura Talbot of Mesa Primary Care  answers seven questions about fall allergies.

1. Flowers aren’t blooming now like they do in spring. What's triggering these allergy flare ups?

Allergy patients tend to come in two big waves – one wave in the spring and another in the fall. Each season is caused by different triggers. In the spring, plants are growing and flowering and releasing new pollens in the air. In the fall, ragweed pollinates and is a major trigger for many people. Also, mold and mildew are common in the fall as conditions get more moist. The symptoms are similar, though, and they include the watery eyes, runny noses, sneezing, feeling congested and some coughing.

2. Do allergies affect children and adults differently?

We do see children can have allergies but can outgrow them as they get older. At the same time, other people may have never had allergies as a child, but developed them later in life as you become more exposed to the triggers. Seasonal allergies can affect people of all ages.

3. How are allergies treated?

There are some over-the-counter options. Antihistamines – such as Zyrtec , Claritin and Allegra – can  help calm down the watery eyes and itchy and runny nose. There’s also nose sprays that you can use – Flonase or Nasonex -- to open up your passageways and help you breathe easier. If you get really congested, you can use a decongestant to help dry out and drain the fluid in your chest and sinuses.

4. Are symptoms worse in the fall than they are in the spring?

I haven’t seen a big change in the degree of symptoms according to the season. It may be harder to handle as the weather changes and you have the hot days, but the cold nights. This change also brings up more breathing issues. That cold air especially can be a trigger for asthma symptoms and causes you to collect more of that mucus.

5. How can you tell if you have a cold or fall allergies?

Especially with school starting up again this time of year, your children are around more people and there are more germs around. It’s very common to mistake fall allergies for the common cold. You get that runny nose and there are so many different causes. It’s looking for the combination of symptoms that typically point to allergies – that runny nose along with the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. With the runny nose, significant congestion, coughing, then we need to look more towards a viral illness.

6. How long does fall allergy season typically last?

For a lot of people who have fall allergies, the season doesn’t end until after that first snowfall when the moisture weighs down the ragweed pollen and clears the air.

7. When should you see your doctor?

Whenever your allergies are flaring up, your body creates more mucus. And that can create a perfect breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. If your symptoms are getting worse, you are miserable, and the over-the-counter medication isn’t working, come and see the doctor. We have other treatments we can try. We really need to watch for that conversion from allergy symptoms to an infection, especially if you start developing fever, chills and symptoms that last longer than two weeks.

Ketura Talbot M.D.

Dr. Talbot is board certified in family practice medicine. She is accepting new patients of all ages at Mesa Primary Care, in west Casper. Call (307) 234-6765 for an appointment.