The Start of Seasonal Allergies
Fall can mean a lot more for your body than an influx of candy corn and pumpkin-spiced everything. The cooling air and changing weather patterns can hit your body hard, affecting everything from your blood pressure to how your fingers feel.
Those with certain conditions might feel a particular sense of dread after the autumnal equinox, as seasonal variations in temperature can spur all kinds of health problems.
One of the most obvious issues, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans: fall allergies. During autumn, ragweed is often the top concern, though in some parts of the country, tree pollen can cause problems at the same time, Stanley Fineman, M.D., of the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, told weather.com. "[Those with fall allergies] need to be properly diagnosed, so they know exactly which one or both is triggering their symptoms," he said.
When barometric pressure, or the weight of the air pressing down on the surface of the Earth, changes, many people feel it acutely in their sinuses. If your sinus pressure just doesn't go away, it may be a sign of an undiagnosed seasonal allergy — so it's a good idea to get to your doctor.
Asthma and Breathing Issues
Kids and parents, beware. It's well-documented that asthma attacks surge during back-to-school time — earning the time of year the moniker the September asthma epidemic, partially because of fall weather.
The end-of-summer heat and harvest stir up high levels of pollen, ragweed and mold, aggravating asthma, allergies and other respiratory conditions. Because mold is often an indoor allergen, it can be hard to find relief inside your home or school.
Plus, going back to the classroom exposes kids to more viruses that can trigger asthma attacks, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Cold and Flu CDC
Summer is barely over, but it is already time to think about flu season. That's because the best time to get a flu shot is now.
The flu season kicks off in earnest in October — though it lasts through April, and you can get a shot all the way through that time — but there's no way to know when the most-severe part of the season will strike. So the best practice is early prevention.
It's recommended that anyone more than 6 months of age get vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fall allergy sufferers and those with asthma should definitely take care to get the shot — chronically stuffed noses can make you more susceptible to viral infection, Michael G. Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., professor and chairman, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told weather.com.
Believe it not, there's a known connection between the season and peptic ulcers, or painful sores on the lining of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine.
After a study of more than 26,000 people with ulcers, researchers found a spike in hospitalizations during September and October. (Peaks were also observed during January and February.)
The mechanism that explains the link between autumn, winter and ulcer isn't known and needs further study, the paper's authors wrote in the journal BMC Gastroenterology.
Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Diseases
Sudden changes in barometric pressure, such as the switch that occurs right before a storm, might trigger joint pain in some patients. A drop in temperature might also bring about this pain, researchers from Tufts University just outside Boston found.
But robust data on the weather-joint pain link are largely hard to find because such studies often rely on patient recall, a notoriously inaccurate way to measure health symptoms. Anecdotally, though, the connection between the changing seasons and joint pain is certainly there.
Each 1.8 degree Fahrenheit the temperature drops is associated with around 200 additional heart attacks, according to a study published in BMJ. Higher blood pressure, a side effect of cold weather, might contribute to the risk.
Catching the flu could trigger a deadly heart attack in those who risk the condition, a study from the Texas Heart Institute found after investigating heart-related deaths in the U.S. and Russia between 1993 and 2000.
The flu causes acute inflammation in the body, which researchers speculate could destabilize the arterial plaques that can trigger heart attacks, according to a press release.
Raynaud’s and Other Cold Weather Woes
Fall weather can trigger symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome, a condition in which the blood flow to your extremities is extremely reduced in cold environments.
In people with the condition, cold air causes severe pain, numbness and white fingers and toes, Nicholas Morrissey, M.D., a vascular surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told weather.com last year.
“Raynaud’s is a pathological level of vasoconstriction,” he explained. Everyone’s body does this to some extent — shunts warm blood away from the fingers and toes to maintain the body’s core temperature — “but in some people that mechanism is exaggerated.”
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or clinical depression with a seasonal onset, can begin in winter, as those with the condition begin to dread the dark days of the coldest season.
Kelly J. Rohan, Ph.D., a professor of psychological science and a clinician at the University of Vermont, said she has noticed that the changing light affects her patients as early as the end of summer. "It hits you right between the eyes — you can't help but notice that we're losing minutes of daylight every day," she told weather.com earlier this year. "What I've noticed about my patients who have SAD is they start to anticipate these symptoms before they begin ... They start thinking about what is coming, and the hard season ahead."
If this sounds like you, seek medical advice. "Clinical depression is a mental health diagnosis that involves at least five pretty moderate to severe symptoms that interfere with life and daily functioning," Dr. Rohan said, "meaning these symptoms really get in the way of one's ability to function in work, at school or in a relationship."
Autumnal Weight Gain
We eat about 86 more calories a day in fall than spring, a 2005 study of nearly 600 people found. Although that's not much, for some people, this seasonally varied eating pattern adds up to winter weight gain, especially when it's combined with skipping the gym while it feels frigid outside.
Fall and winter weight gain isn't inevitable, though. There are plenty of in-season fall and winter superfoods to help you eat right all season. Plus, cold weather has a surprising perk: It might actually help you burn calories because it activates your body's store of brown fat, which helps heat your extremities.