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Plus three other essential tricks you need to stop the sniffles this fall.

September 14, 2015

Those perfectly brisk days (and pumpkin spice everything) of fall are just around the corner. But with those goodies come the many enemies of every fall allergy sufferer.

"Ragweed pollen and mold spore allergies are the most common," says Manish Ramesh, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at Montefiore Medical Center. Ragweed typically pops up outside during the second week of August, peaks in early September, and continues into October. Indoors, dust mites and mold breed thanks to the chilly dampness fall weather brings.

To help keep your symptoms in check, try these surprising expert tricks for keeping the bad guys at bay.

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Don't make your bed

Yes, there is a case for kicking off the sheets and skipping the a.m. tidying. Moist environments like your bed are breeding grounds for dust mites, microscopic critters that excrete a protein in their feces that causes allergy symptoms, Dr. Ramesh explains.

In addition to using hypoallergenic encasements for your pillows and mattress, leaving your linens exposed to sunlight during the day may help dry your bed out, making it more difficult for mites to scavenge on the moisture (aka sweat) and skin particles all cozied up in your sheets.

"Dust mites depend on moisture from us," Dr. Ramesh says. "Any method that makes it harder for dust mites to obtain food or water will make it harder for them to survive." Wash your bedding every week in hot water (130° F) can also help.

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Turn on your air conditioner

We know, we know: nothing feels better than dozing off with a fall breeze coming through the window. But with that fresh air comes fresh pollen, leaves, and mold that may stir up your symptoms. Dr. Ramesh advises keeping windows shut. Many AC units have a setting to recirculate air in order to keep the pollutants out.

Air conditioning also helps lower the humidity in the air, which helps keep dust mites and mold growth in your house check. But rooms with a likelihood of extra dampness (like the basement) may benefit from a dehumidifier as well.

The humidity sweet spot for your house: anything below 50%. You can measure it with an instrument called a hygrometer, which most hardware stores carry.

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Clean your floors with the right tools

Ordinary vacuum filters can't keep the smallest allergenic particles in the bag; they end up getting blown out through the vacuum again with the exiting air. "Wet mopping—or using wet wipes—can be a cheaper way to clean hard surfaces without blowing dust [or other] particles in the air," Dr. Ramesh says.

If your indoor allergies are through the roof, it might be time to invest in a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, which traps more of those teensy particles. "True HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners are expensive," he adds. But if you're in the market, we recommend the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser ($170, amazon.com), which is HEPA-equipped and conveniently alerts you when you need to replace the filter.

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Put plenty of space between your home and your leaf piles

Falling leaves are a surprising contributor to allergens both outdoors and inside your house.

"Mold spore counts increase in the fall because mold grows on decaying leaves," explains Dr. Ramesh. It's best to rake the piles from your yard as far from your house as you can, bag them up, and get rid of them, stat. (If your main allergen is mold, you may want to swap duties with your spouse or roommate and skip the yardwork all together.)

Even with that, it's hard to avoid tracking mold into the house this time of year, so it's a good idea to take shoes off at the door, and regularly bathe pets that go outside.

If you're still sneezing after all this, see your doctor. Says Dr. Ramesh, "If allergies are interfering with your daily activities, you should certainly consider medications, and in the long term, allergen immunotherapy, known as allergy shots."

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