You can still get the job done.

By Lauren Wellbank
September 25, 2020
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Fall is here, which means it's only matter of time until you need to break out your rake and compostable yard waste bags as you deal with fallen leaves. While autumn's backyard cleanup is always backbreaking, those who suffer from seasonal allergies find it particularly burdensome: Pollen and mold can turn raking into a sneeze-filled nightmare. That's why we checked in with Dr. Sanjeev Jain, a board-certified allergist and immunologist and the founder of Columbia Asthma & Allergy Clinic, to find out what you can do to minimize any reactions while you are out and about in the yard this fall.

Getty / Cavan Images

Understand why leaves cause such an intense reaction.

Leaves are loaded with mold, which is the root cause of allergy symptoms come fall, explains Dr. Jain. "Weed pollen is also prevalent during autumn, and individuals with allergy to weeds, such as ragweed, are particularly prone to symptoms while in the yard," he says.

Take medication ahead of time.

As for the best ways to mitigate these types of allergies? Get ahead of the symptoms and mask up. "Pre-medicate with antihistamines and nasal steroids at least one hour before doing yard work and wear a mask with HEPA filter," Dr. Jain says. "If allergies are severe or chronic, then allergy testing and allergy shots is the preferred option; these can eliminate the need for other interventions." When you come in from raking, use a nasal rinse with a saline solution, Dr. Jain adds, to remove pollen from your breathing pathway.

Go outside later in the day.

Raking leaves isn't the only fall activity that can cause unpleasant reactions—pulling weeds and mowing the lawn can also illicit an allergic response, since you are exposing yourself to the very same pollen and mold you come into contact with while you rake. To lessen the impact, Dr. Jain suggests timing your chores appropriately. "Another important consideration is that pollen counts are higher in the morning and on windy days," he says. "It may be preferable to perform these activities in late afternoon and when it is not that windy."

Raking leaves can irritate anyone's system.

You don't have to be a seasonal allergy sufferer to feel uncomfortable while raking leaves—congestion and watery eyes are common. Luckily, you can still benefit from the same interventions, notes Dr. Jain. You may also be suffering from another timely condition called "non-allergic" or "vasomotor" rhinitis. "This condition is best treated by wearing warm clothing and using prescription nasal sprays," he says. "A board-certified allergist can determine the root cause of the symptoms and them treat appropriately."

Seek out professional help.

Though allergies can be very restrictive, Dr. Jain says that, in most cases, they are treatable and shouldn't stop you from tackling those autumn chores. "With a three-pronged approach, namely reduction of exposure, medications, and allergen immunotherapy under the guidance of a board-certified allergist, almost all allergy-sufferers can achieve dramatic improvement in their symptoms," he says. "Allergen immunotherapy is performed by incremental exposure to the allergen, which in turn can lead to long-term tolerance and reduced need for medications or other interventions."

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