Why Fall Allergies Feel Extra Bad Each Year, According to Experts

The days are getting shorter, the air is getting crisper, the leaves are changing colors—& fall allergies are in full swing. Most of us associate seasonal allergies with springtime, but more & more people have been battling runny noses, itchy eyes, & scratchy throats come autumn.

If you feel like you’re allergic to October itself, it’s not all in your head. A growing body of research suggests that pollen seasons—which in the fall typically lasts between early August through November—are now 21% longer than they were in 1990. And as the air swells with microscopic allergens, your immune system triggers all kinds of unpleasant symptoms if you’re one of up to 60 million people in the US who deal with allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. hay fever) each year, per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

So if your sinuses are a clogged-up mess right now, you’re in good company. The number of people affected by seasonal allergies is only expected to grow, research shows, & you may have climate change to blame for that. Here’s why fall allergies feel especially awful lately—& how to deal if you feel like you’ve been hit over the head with them.

Why do fall allergies seem to be getting worse each year?

As the earth’s climate has warmed, the plants that cause seasonal allergies—most commonly ragweed in the fall—have had longer growing seasons. These plants once died out by October when the winter frost typically arrived & killed them off, but the first frost often doesn’t appear until November now, depending on where you live. “As warmer temperatures extend into October & November, plants like ragweed are continuing to produce pollen later into the year,” Melanie Carver, Chief Mission Officer for the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), tells SELF.

On top of that, warmer weather can stifle airflow, the AAFA notes, which can cause ozone gas & other forms of air pollution to build, warming the climate even further. And so the cycle repeats: The rising temps further extend growing seasons, which “are exposing people to higher pollen counts for longer periods of time,” Carver says.

Some projections suggest that if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise as they have been, levels of ragweed pollen will double between the years 2000 & 2060. This will likely exacerbate symptoms in people who already have seasonal allergies & possibly lead to a spike in the number of people who experience them.

How to deal when your fall allergy symptoms feel unbearable

First, take note of your symptoms. During the fall, it can be easy to confuse seasonal allergies with the common cold, flu, or even COVID-19. But symptoms like sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, & postnasal drip are key signs that you’re probably dealing with allergies, says Carver. Another important thing to note: Allergies do not cause a fever like the flu or COVID can. (Here’s a h&y chart that breaks all the potential symptoms down.)

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