8 Smart Ways to Banish Indoor Allergens This Fall

Achoo! It’s that time of year again, the start of the fall allergy season. If you’re one of the 20 million American adults who suffer from allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, chances are you’re familiar with the runny and stuffy nose, itchy eyes, fatigue, sneezing, and post-nasal drip that accompany this common condition. While there are numerous airborne allergens, hay fever is mostly triggered by pollen from trees and plants, which is carried on the wind and not by pollinators like bees and butterflies. As a general rule, hay fever in early spring comes primarily from inhaling the pollen of trees, particularly pine, birch, cedar, walnut, sycamore, oak, and maple. Later in the spring, grass pollen is the most common hay fever trigger. In the fall, however, it’s pollen from weeds —particularly ragweed—that causes the most problems. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, just one ragweed plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains during its relatively short blooming season, which peaks in late September. But pollen isn't the only trigger. Many people with allergic rhinitis are also sensitive to mold spores, animal dander, and dust mites, all of which are common throughout the year, although late fall tends to be peak season for airborne mold. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce the misery of fall hay fever. Heed the following 8 tips to help keep the sneezing and sniffling to a minimum.

  1. Cover Your Face

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    Cover your face when working outside

    For many homeowners, autumn means yard work. Raking, pruning, fertilizing, mulching—there’s a lot involved in getting your garden ready for its winter rest. But while tending a garden can be very enjoyable, breathing in the massive amounts of pollen and mold spores mixed in with those fallen leaves, grass clippings, and mulch is not. A dust mask (you’ll find both disposable and reusable versions at hardware stores) is a must for keeping pollen out of your nose and mouth. When the yard work is done, change out of your work clothes right away and toss them into the wash so pollen from your clothing doesn’t scatter around the house.

    Related: 15 Remarkably Easy Ways to Create a Dust-Free Home

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  2. Close the Windows

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    Close the windows allergies

    While it’s undeniably pleasant to throw open the windows and enjoy the fresh air on mild fall days, you’re also inviting pollen to drift inside. On days when pollen counts are high—you can check your area’s forecast at Pollen.com—keep your windows closed and run the central air conditioning or fan, especially during the peak pollen hours of midmorning through early afternoon. A clean AC filter can catch up to 90 percent of airborne pollen.

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  3. Change Your Air Filters

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    Change HVAC filters allergies

    If it’s been so long that you can’t remember when you last changed the filter in your central-air system, then the filter is not doing its best to keep your household air clean and free of pollen. Ideally, you should change the filter at least once each season, but if you or your family members are especially troubled by hay fever, change the filter every month from August through October to maintain peak performance.

    Related: 12 Household Cleaning Mistakes That Are Making You Sick

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  4. Vacuum Regularly

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    Vacuum regularly fall allergies

    Although pollen starts off as airborne, it eventually settles on the ground or other surfaces. That’s why regular vacuuming—preferably using a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter—is a must. At a minimum, vacuum floors, couches, armchairs, and even your curtains weekly. Even better, vacuum twice a week and mop all hard flooring.

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  5. Watch Out for Mold

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    Mold fall allergies

    Mold and mildew require warmth, moisture, and darkness to take hold. These conditions are quite common in bathrooms and basements, although mold spores are found everywhere. While it’s always a good idea to keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent (mold grows best at 60 percent or higher), it’s even more important in the fall, when mold spores are most prevalent outdoors and can easily drift or be carried inside. A dehumidifier can help keep indoor humidity under control, but it's also important to clean the bathroom and other damp areas regularly with vinegar or a commercial product that kills mold spores.

    Related: 14 Surprising Places Where Mold Hides in the Home

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  6. Dry Clothes Indoors

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    Dry clothes indoors fall allergies

    While air-drying is a wonderful way to cut back on energy use, hanging your wet laundry on an outdoor clothesline during the peak pollen months is a sure way to load up your clothing, sheets, and towels with sneeze-inducing allergens. Instead, use the dryer or string up a clothesline or laundry rack indoors.

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  7. Purify the Air

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    Run air purifier fall allergies

    Most air purifiers have HEPA filters that remove up to 99 percent of airborne allergens, including mold spores, pollen, pet dander, and dust. If allergies are a recurring or constant problem, it’s a good idea to run an air purifier in your bedroom, as that’s where most people spend the majority of their time at home. Those with severe symptoms should consider adding an air purifier to the living room as well.

    Related: 7 Reasons Indoor Air Isn’t as Pure as You Think

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  8. Rake Up Leaves

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    Rake leaves fall allergies

    They don’t call it fall for nothing: This is the time of year when colorful autumn leaves gently float to the ground. Unfortunately, piles of sodden leaves and other plant debris provide the perfect conditions for mold growth, and drifting spores are an allergy trigger for many people. If you want to keep your fall allergies at bay, rake up those fallen leaves on a weekly basis. But don't forget to put on your dust mask before you grab that rake!

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