So, I left my office for a stroll in the summer sunshine, to breathe in some fresh air and stretch my legs and within five minutes my nose was stuffed, my mouth, tongue and lips were itchy and the insides of my ears were itchy too.
What was going on?
As of August 12th, here in New York, I was an itchy-mouth mess all due to an allergy to ragweed.
What is an allergy?
Just to recap: allergies are an overreaction of a person's immune system to substances that normally cause no problems. These allergenic substances can cause allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, urticaria, dermatitis and even anaphylaxis.
What is ragweed?
Dr. James Thompson on this site has written an excellent post all about ragweed allergy and managing it during the fall season.
For those of you wondering just what the deal is, according to Wikipedia:
[Ragweed] is highly allergenic, generally considered the greatest allergen of all pollens, and the prime cause of hay fever in North America. Common Ragweed and Western Ragweed are considered the most noxious to those prone to hay fever. Each plant is reputed to be able to produce about a billion grains of pollen over a season, and the plant is wind-pollinated. Ragweed blooms in the northern hemisphere from early July-mid August or until cooler weather arrives."
This spells serious trouble for those of us with allergies. According to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, "Of Americans who are allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed. People with allergies to one type of pollen tend to develop allergies to other pollens as well." These means if you're allergic to other types of pollen, and you get allergic this time of year and don't know exactly why, ragweed may be the culprit. Talk with your allergist about getting tested for ragweed and other pollens.
What are ragweed allergies?
"The allergic reaction to all plants that produce pollen is commonly known as hay fever. Symptoms include eye irritation, runny nose, stuffy nose, puffy eyes, sneezing, and inflamed, itchy nose and throat. For those with severe allergies, asthma attacks, chronic sinusitis, headaches and impaired sleep are symptoms." For me, it was stuffy nose and itchy mouth and ear. Yuck.
What's oral allergy syndrome?
Allergies to ragweed aren't simply confined to reactions to the pollen. Oh joy. Ragweed allergies may also cause a condition called oral allergy syndrome, where eating certain fruits, veggies and other foods may cause itchiness, tingling and/or swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, "...individuals with ragweed pollen allergies might experience these symptoms when consuming foods such as:
* Sunflower seeds
* Chamomile tea
Oral allergy syndrome is also common in people with birch tree pollen allergies. Foods that can trigger a reaction in people with this allergy include:
Generally, if individuals with ragweed allergies experience any symptoms of OAS, they should avoid eating the foods listed above, especially during ragweed season. However, cooking the food will frequently reduce and/or eliminate a reaction, though this is not always the case. Sometimes, OAS can induce severe throat swelling or even a systemic reaction in a person who is highly allergic."
As with any allergy, see an allergist/immunologist for an appropriate evaluation, including diagnostic allergy tests which will determine whether or not you should avoid eating certain foods.