Ragweed Allergy


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Ever wonder what causes you to sneeze more in the fall season?  If you are like millions of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, then the autumn sneezing is likely due to ragweed allergy.  Ragweed falls under the subfamily Asteroideae, with the genus that is responsible for a majority of symptoms in the U.S. being Ambrosia.  Short or common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) grows to between 1-5 feet in height.  Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) can grow up to 15 feet in height.  Ragweed prefers roadsides and fields with moist soil.  Pollination begins as early as August and usually persists until November or the first frost.  Because each ragweed plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains, it is easy to see why ragweed pollen can be so ubiquitous especially on windy days.  Because pollen is more easily dispersed in drier conditions, late morning (after the morning dew evaporates) is generally worse for ragweed sufferers.

What symptoms are caused by ragweed allergy?

         Ragweed allergies can manifest as sneezing, runny and/or itchy nose, nasal congestion, itchy and/or watery eyes, itchy ears, cough, difficulty breathing, diminished exercise tolerance, headaches, and sinus fullness.  Disruption of sleep at night because of these symptoms often leads to restless or incomplete sleep and subsequent fatigue.  Poor concentration in school or work is not uncommon.  Certain foods can be problematic for ragweed allergic patients and can lead to a condition called oral allergy syndrome.  Oral allergy syndrome can manifest as itching, rash, and/or swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat after ingestion of watermelon, canteloupe, honeydew melon, banana, cucumber, chamomile, or zucchini.

Tips to manage ragweed allergy:

1.    Avoid the Trigger: Simple maneuvers such as closing the windows and doors to the house and rolling up the car windows while driving reduces pollen exposure. Ragweed pollen is highest in the late morning and on dry, windy days so keep this in mind when planning outdoor activities.

2.    Premedicate for the Season: Starting your physician-recommended medication 2 weeks before the start of the allergy season can reduce your symptoms.

3.    Filters can Help: Changing air conditioner filters in the home and car are a good idea to keep allergens in the air at a lower level. Some people receive further benefit from a HEPA filtering device in the home.

4.    Keep Outdoor Pollens Outdoors: Avoid line drying your clothes outside or tracking pollen in with your shoes. Pets are magnets for pollen because of their fur, so sometimes a quick wash will remove a potentially hidden source of allergen.  Shower and change clothes after spending a lot of time outdoors to remove pollen grains from your body.

When should I see an Allergist?

        When your symptoms persist despite treatment with either over-the-counter medications or those prescribed by your physician, then you should highly consider consultation with an Allergist.  An Allergist is a fellowship-trained physician who has at least 2 years of additional specialty training in allergic diseases and asthma beyond internal medicine or pediatric residency.  Your Allergist can identify that you indeed suffer from ragweed allergy (or another autumn allergen) by specialized in-office testing.  If medication treatment and avoidance measures are incomplete or fail to meet your expectations, then consideration can be given to allergy shots (immunotherapy) for symptom relief.   


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This site was last updated 04/25/13