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The Myths and Truths About Fall Allergies

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Just when many Americans are hoping to catch a break from summer’s record heat waves, hay fever season is in full bloom. Each year, ragweed pollens begin surfacing in mid-August. Symptoms of hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, often mirror those of a cold, including a runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion.

“Many people mistake their seasonal symptoms for a cold instead of rhinitis due to several allergy myths,” says allergist Stanley Fineman, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Knowing the truth about allergies and how to prevent flare-ups can mean having a comfortable, symptom-free hay fever season.” Here are some myths and truths you should know about hay fever season to help you feel great, be active all day, and sleep well at night.

Myth: I’m miserable all hay fever season, but there’s nothing I can do except suffer through it.
Truth: There are many treatments available to ease your symptoms, including over-the-counter and prescription nasal sprays, medications, and allergy shots (also called immunotherapy). There also are new treatments on the horizon, including one for asthma triggered by ragweed allergies, so stay tuned. In the meantime, track your allergy symptoms with and visit with your allergist to find relief.

Myth: I’ve never had a problem with hay fever, so I must be sneezy and stuffy because of a cold.
Truth: Anyone can develop an allergy – including ragweed allergy – later in life. Scientists think it may be that you’ve always had the allergy, but it might have taken exposure to another allergen to trigger your symptoms. If symptoms are persistent, lasting more than two weeks, you probably have allergies. Colds evolve, usually starting with a stuffy nose, throat irritation, and lowgrade fever. Common allergy symptoms include itchy eyes and nose, as well as sneezing, but the mucus is typically clear.

Myth: I should start taking my hay fever medication at the first sneeze and stop at the first frost.
Truth: Ragweed usually blooms around mid-August (a little later in the south), but it’s best to stay ahead of the itching, sneezing, drippy nose, and wheezing and begin taking medication before symptoms start. The symptoms can linger until the end of the season, so wait until a few weeks after the first frost to stop taking medication.

Myth: My hay fever and pet allergies have nothing to do with each other.
Truth: If you are allergic to ragweed in addition to your dog or cat, you may experience even more symptoms during hay fever season. People with ragweed allergies who also are allergic to cats or dogs develop symptoms faster and more severely, according to a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Your best bet? Treat pet allergies year round to help make hay fever more manageable. Your allergist might also prescribe allergy shots.

Myth: Hay fever makes me sneeze and sniffle, but my tingly, itchy mouth must be caused by something else.
Truth: Actually, many people who are allergic to ragweed have oral allergy syndrome, also called pollen-food allergy syndrome. It means your body is having an allergic reaction to the proteins that are similar in ragweed pollen and certain fruits, vegetables, and nuts – such as banana, cucumber, melons, zucchini, and sunflower seeds. It’s quite common, and it is rarely serious. Usually it only causes an itchy, tingly mouth, throat, or lips. But sometimes it can cause a stomachache and, very rarely, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In the event of an emergency, seek medical attention. Follow up with your allergist, who might prescribe epinephrine.


To learn more about allergies and asthma, take a relief test, and find an allergist, visit

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2012.