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Fall allergies

The Doctors | 10/3/2013, 8 p.m.

USA WEEKEND Health

Consider yourself warned: This fall allergy season probably will be pretty miserable, for reasons out of your immediate control. Climate changes, warmer overall temps and increased carbon dioxide concentrations can cause ragweed -- the No. 1 culprit of autumn allergies -- to grow faster, produce more pollen and bloom longer, meaning more days of sniffling, sneezing and itchy eyes. Mold could get your allergies going, too; so might dust mites. Here's a closer look at these common fall triggers, plus tips to help ease symptoms.

Trigger: Ragweed

The plant usually starts releasing pollen in mid-August and continues until the first frost, which in some Northern states is occurring up to three weeks later than it used to. Some estimates indicate about one-quarter of all Americans are sensitive to ragweed. It's impossible to completely avoid the allergen. Each plant can make up to 1 billion pollen grains per season -- but to minimize exposure, pay attention to pollen levels and limit time outdoors when counts are high. Also, wash your hands often, shower before bed and keep windows closed when possible. Using a neti pot helps with symptoms, as do antihistamines or allergy shots. Researchers also recently reported that a new, once-a-day tablet may offer relief for ragweed sufferers; the pill is under review now.

Trigger: Mold

It doesn't just grow in your humid bathroom or basement; mold can be found on rotting logs and fallen leaves and in compost piles, plants and soil. Outdoor mold spores reach their peak in July in warmer states and October in colder states. In the South and on the West Coast, they can be found year-round. Wear a dust mask when you're mowing the lawn, digging around plants or picking up leaves. Keep away from uncut fields if possible, and stay inside when mold air levels are high.

Trigger: Dust Mites

They're tiny little bugs that commonly live in house dust, and their populations tend to peak in August. Allergen levels stay high through December. Even the cleanest homes have dust, but encasing your mattress and pillows in allergen-blocking covers helps reduce symptoms -- they're made of tightly woven fabric to prevent the mites from colonizing and escaping. Other ideas: wash bedding weekly in hot water, keep humidity levels low in your home, vacuum regularly and if possible, install a high efficiency media filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in the furnace and air-conditioning unit to keep the air cleaner year-round.

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.

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