By Emily Main
Fall means apple cider, back to school, the fresh smell of fallen leaves--and the return of allergy season. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the public is allergic to ragweed, the most common culprit in fall seasonal allergies, and studies are finding that ragweed season is lasting as much as 15 days longer than in earlier decades in some regions of the country. Rain, which washes pollen out of the air and so is generally welcomed by ragweed allergy sufferers, leads to the proliferation of mold, another seasonal allergy trigger.
Whether it's ragweed, mold--or both--that gives you the allergy blues, here are five ways to prep yourself now, before fall allergens have a chance to make you miserable.
1. Stock up on butterbur. If mold, but not ragweed, makes you teary-eyed, try butterbur tablets, a botanical remedy. The British Medical Journal published a study in 2002 finding that leaves and roots of the butterbur bush, native to Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia, worked just as effectively at reducing hay fever symptoms as cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec, without causing drowsiness. Butterbur belongs to the same family as ragweed, however, so people allergic to ragweed may actually get worse after taking it.
2. Plant cover crops. Ragweed really is a weed; it flowers from mid-August to late October, before the first frost. One plant's pollen can travel up to 400 miles, so it's unlikely that you can avoid it completely. However, you can keep ragweed from taking root in your yard or garden by planting cover crops after you harvest your garden's summer vegetables. Cover crops also keep your soil healthy for next spring's planting season. Try clover, rye, buckwheat, or a mix of field peas and oats.
3. Put dead leaves to use. Wet piles of fallen leaves are prime breeding grounds for leaf mold, and while leaf mold is valuable to your soil, it can send you into a frenzy of sneezing fits if you're allergic. Clean up fallen leaves promptly, before they get wet and moldy; better yet, get someone who's not allergic to do it. Pile up the leaves in an out-of-the-way place so you can use them for mulch next spring, or make a true compost heap to transform them into fertilizer for your garden and lawn. (Shred them so they'll compost quickly; run them over with a lawn mower.) Keep your pile covered so any mold spores will stay put.
4. Clean your filters. Staying indoors when pollen counts are high is the most effective way to cut down on both mold and ragweed reactions--but not if you're pumping in pollen from outside. Take the time now to clean or change your air conditioner and furnace filters, since ragweed pollen persists long after the hot temps turn cold. You'll cut down on pollen inside your house, and you'll lower your energy bills; clean filters allow both your heating and cooling systems to run more efficiently. This in turn uses less fossil-fuel-powered energy.
5. Head to the beach. Humid beaches can be problematic for mold-allergy sufferers, but they can make a welcome respite for the ragweed-allergic, as the humidity levels generally keep pollen counts to a minimum. The National Allergy Bureau maintains a database of pollen counts online, so you can check allergen levels in both your hometown and beach or vacation destinations.