What is ragweed allergy?
Ragweed allergy is an allergy to ragweed pollen. Ragweed plants grow wild almost everywhere, abundantly in the east and Midwest, from August through November until the early frost. Many are weeds, shrubs and herbs. They are often found in rural areas.
Most ragweed plants are annuals, meaning they live just one year. They start to emerge in the spring and flower in mid-August in most parts of the country.
What is ragweed pollen?
Ragweed pollen is a powdery substance that consists of tiny particles, or grains. The grains of pollen help fertilize other ragweed plants. One ragweed plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains that can float through the air, and either produce seeds or end up in your nose, eyes or mouth, causing great discomfort if you’re allergic to it. Pollen can also collect on clothes, hair and the skin.
What are ragweed allergy symptoms?
Like all pollen allergies, ragweed allergy can lead to allergic rhinitis (hay fever), inflammation of the nasal passages. Its main symptoms are:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose with thin, water discharge
- Postnasal drip
- Watery, itchy or irritated eyes
- Eye swelling – the “allergic shiner”
- Weakness or fatigue
- Hives on the skin
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When is ragweed season?
Mid-September is when ragweed pollen counts are usually at their peak. The season typically lasts 6-10 weeks depending on your location, wrapping up by early November.
Ragweed pollen is believed to be one of the primary reasons for the September Asthma Peak – a time in mid-September when asthma-related hospitalizations spike. It happens soon after children go back to school and are exposed to more allergens as well as respiratory illnesses.
What foods are related to ragweed?
You may need to avoid certain fruits and vegetables if you have a ragweed allergy and develop symptoms from eating these foods. This happens because foods botanically related to ragweed can trigger what is known as oral allergy syndrome (OAS).
Foods related to ragweed include:
- melon (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew)
- sunflower seed
Are there any treatments for ragweed allergy?
Over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications, including antihistamines and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays, can help relieve symptoms. If you know your allergies are worse in late summer and early fall, start taking your allergy medications two weeks before symptoms are at their worst. Talk with your doctor about which medication is best for you.
Ragweed pollen immunotherapy is available to help build tolerance to allergens, reducing or eliminating symptoms. Ragweed pollen immunotherapy is available in two forms:
- Allergy shots: combines multiple allergens in one injection, administered weekly in a doctor’s office.
- Under-the-tongue tablets: a daily tablet that dissolves under the tongue, available for grass and ragweed pollen; administered 3 months prior to or during allergy season.
Talk with a board-certified allergist to determine if immunotherapy is right for you.
How can I minimize the impact of a ragweed allergy?
- Pre-medicate with an antihistamine and/or corticosteroid nasal spray 2 hours prior to allergen exposure. For eye allergies, use eye drops as needed.
- Avoid ragweed pollen. In late summer and early fall, levels are highest in the morning. Pollen can also surge on windy, warm days and after a thunderstorm or rainfall. Limit time outside when pollen counts are high – usually in the mornings through early afternoons.
- Change clothes when coming inside.
- Wear a mask when raking leaves and doing outdoor activities.
- Monitor ragweed pollen counts. Airborne pollens can travel for several miles.
- Keep windows and doors shut at your home; close windows of your car while driving.
- Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after time outside.
- Dry laundry indoors rather than on a clothesline outdoors.
If you have allergic asthma that is affected by ragweed pollen, talk with your doctor about adjusting your Asthma Action Plan or treatment plan in the late summer and fall. Be sure to take your daily asthma medications as prescribed – even during the summer when you may experience fewer symptoms – and avoid exposure to ragweed when possible.
Learn about ragweed as a trigger in this Trigger Awareness Podcast episode.
This podcast is offered by DailyBreath in partnership with Allergy & Asthma Network.