Sneezing fits and runny noses are a common occurrence during the colder months, and many people often worry that they are coming down with a cold, flu, or even Covid. However, it has been discovered that in an increasing number of cases, these symptoms are actually due to allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. Dr. Ellie Cannon, a GP for The Mail on Sunday, recently wrote about a colleague who was experiencing sneezing fits without any other cold symptoms, and received numerous similar stories from readers. Medical experts have now confirmed that there is a rise in cases of allergic rhinitis during the autumn months, which occurs when the lining of the nose becomes swollen in response to allergens such as mold or pollen.
Readers of The Mail on Sunday shared their own experiences with sneezing fits, ranging from muscle pain to severe attacks that made them fear for their safety while driving. Some even reported disabling symptoms. Many of these individuals typically suffer from hay fever during the warmer months but are now finding themselves needing to continue taking treatments like antihistamines. This has left them puzzled and wondering why they are being affected during the colder months. According to Allergy UK, levels of airborne mold and fungal spores increase during the autumn, which can trigger hay fever allergies in certain individuals. These molds are often found in decaying plant matter in gardens and woodlands, making environments like piles of leaves, grass cuttings, compost heaps, and garden sheds ideal for their growth. Mold and fungal spore levels are particularly high in September and October.
Some MoS readers noticed that their sneezing worsened after being outside or dealing with fallen leaves in the garden. Mold can also thrive indoors when windows are kept closed and when clothes are dried indoors. Researchers at the National Aspergillosis Centre in Manchester have found that drying wet clothes on warm radiators can increase moisture levels in homes by up to 30%, creating ideal conditions for mold spores. One type of mold, called aspergillus fumigatus, can even lead to potentially fatal lung infections. The lead scientists at the center advise drying wet clothes outside, in a well-ventilated indoor space away from living areas, or in a tumble dryer to minimize the risk.
Dr. Adrian Morris, a principal allergist at Surrey Allergy Clinic, notes that it is relatively new to see cases of allergic rhinitis during this time of year. Typically, hay fever starts with tree pollens in March and April, followed by grass pollens from May to August. However, now people are being affected well into the autumn, although the reason for this is unclear. Dr. Morris has also noticed an increase in patients with allergic reactions caused by the invasive shrub ragweed, which releases pollen later in the year than most plants. Dust is another common allergen that builds up during autumn and winter when people spend more time indoors. Allergic rhinitis can worsen asthma symptoms and is a risk factor for developing asthma, so individuals concerned about their asthma should seek medical advice.
Fortunately, there are remedies available for most cases of Autumn Sneezing Syndrome. Mr. Jacques, a consultant ear, nose, and throat surgeon, recommends daily antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays to reduce swelling, stuffiness, and runny noses. These can be purchased from supermarkets and pharmacies and can be used together. Mr. Jacques emphasizes that nasal steroid sprays are underused but are effective and safe, although they may take a few weeks to show results. Dr. Morris suggests that individuals who engage in gardening or walking in areas with high mold spore levels should shower after being outside and consider changing clothes to limit exposure. Mr. Jacques concludes by saying that many people suffer unnecessarily because they are unaware of the available remedies in stores.
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