Foliage and the Respiratory Patient

Posted on October 31, 2017   |   
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This blog post was written by Katie Keating, RN, MS, patient advocate

Fun fall decorations, such as pumpkins, hay stacks and cornstalks are a great way to get in the autumn spirit. Who doesn't love stunning fall foliage? While most people enjoy the lingering warm weather, Indian summer and unseasonably warm temperatures can make allergy symptoms last longer.

Ragweed plants usually begin to pollenate in mid-August and may continue to be a problem until a hard freeze, depending on where you live. As ragweed season winds down in the North and Northeast, the leaves start to fall, ramping up mold production. When leaves just sit in your yard, moisture accumulates, accelerating mold growth. If you have mold allergies, these signs of the season can do a number on your health.

Mold spores that grow on dead leaves and release spores into the air are common allergens throughout the fall. Old spores may peak on dry, windy afternoons or on damp, rainy days in the early morning.

Mold is a non-scientific name for many types of fungi- unwanted patches of black, brown, blue, yellow, pink, green, smelly fuzzy growths. Molds, both indoors and outdoors require moisture.

A runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat can arise as the days get shorter and the leaves begin to change.  Most commonly diagnosed mold related symptoms include: asthma, allergic rhinitis and nasal congestion, post nasal drip with sore throat, coughing and hoarseness.  Mold allergies can cause sleepless nights and daytime fatigue.

Allergies can have a huge impact on quality of life and it's completely unnecessary suffering. A few recommendations for avoiding allergens outside include the following:

  • Start taking allergy medications 1 to 2 weeks before ragweed season begins-but please, always check with your doctor before starting a new medication.
  • Camping and outdoor trips should not be scheduled during times of high pollen count, which is usually September to October for ragweed.
  • Keep outdoor activity to a minimum when plants are pumping out pollen. Ragweed pollen tends to peak in the morning hours but other pollens and mold spores may be present at other times of the day.
  • Allergic patients should avoid raking leaves and mowing grass; it can stir agitating pollen and mold into the air. (A N95 mask can be worn during outdoor chores such as raking or mowing the lawn to help reduce pollen exposure.)
  • Keep leaves, grass and yard clippings, as well as compost away from your house to reduce the number of mold spores that can enter your house. Cut back any trees and/or brush that is close to the house.
  • After being outdoors, clean off pollen residue by bathing, washing hair and clothes and using a nasal rinse.
  • Keep windows closed at night to prevent pollens or molds from entering your home. Use the air conditioning, which cleans and cools, as well as dries the air. Also, if you are able to, add a dehumidifier. Make sure to empty the dehumidifier every day and clean it on a regular basis.
  • Don't hang bedding or clothing outside to dry because they may collect pollens and molds. Use a clothes dryer instead.
  • It's also best to roll up the windows in your car.
  • Be careful with any kind of vegetables that are rotting, such as Halloween pumpkins.
  • Check daily pollen counts in your area.
  • Having your allergies properly identified and treated will help you and your family enjoy the autumn season.

If you think you need to see an allergist, ask your physician for a recommendation.


The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) on Avoiding Allergy Triggers this Fall, news release, October 2006.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic facts: Molds in the environment. Updated Feb 8 2010.

The COPD Foundation advises that before you make any changes to your medication or therapies that you first consult with your doctor.