Fall Allergy Season is Coming: Are You Ready For Ragweed?

James Thompson, MD Health Pro August 01, 2008
  • The middle of summer is often a good time for those who have outdoor seasonal allergy problems. In the upper half of the U.S., tree and grass pollen season is over. The hot weather forces many people to more consistently run their air conditioning (which reduces indoor mold and dust mite prevalence). Vacations to different places may further reduce exposure to home or work-related allergy triggers.

     

    On the other hand, ragweed season awaits the perfect balance between daylight hours and darkness of night, to explode billions of pollen grains into the air. In the Midwest this occurs around August 15th and lasts through September, until the first frost.

     

    For many years goldenrod has taken the blame for causing the onslaught of hay fever symptoms in late summer. Actually, goldenrod in this case is an innocent bystander because, unlike ragweed, it is not wind pollinated. This plant relies on insects (such as bees and butterflies) to distribute its pollen, which is a lot bulkier than ragweed, grass and tree pollen.

     

    Why is goldenrod falsely accused of wreaking allergy havoc?

     

    Goldenrod is more visible than ragweed and grows in the same places. It is distinguished by its bright yellow flowers that blossom at the same time ragweed pollinates. This photogenic flowering plant produces pollen that is too heavy and sticky to be carried off in a summer breeze, unlike ragweed. Click here to see  additional pictures of goldenrod.

     

     

    About Ragweed

     

    Ragweed plants populate many rural and urban areas of almost every state in America. Its genus is Ambrosia which in Greek means "food of the gods." Isn't it odd that food of the gods can be so agitating to the nose and eyes of millions of allergy sufferers?

     

    Ragweed is a dull, often overlooked plant that can grow to be just a few feet tall (short ragweed), or extend greater than 10 feet off the ground (tall ragweed). One plant may emit a billion pollen grains, which have been noted on windy days, to travel hundreds of miles. This means ragweed does not have to grow in your backyard to cause trouble.

     

    Ragweed plants are found in areas where the ground has been recently disturbed by construction, road work, or general development. Roadsides, river banks, fields and vacant lots are ideal settings for ragweed. The ragweed pollinating cycle varies depending on the region of the country. Ragweed allergy is the most common seasonal allergy in the United Sates. Would you recognize ragweed if you saw it? Click here.

     

     

    6 Tips for Preparing for Ragweed Season

     

    Tips from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) emphasize these points:

     

    • Talk to your family doctor or allergist about the best medication to take for treating seasonal allergy.
    • Allergy medications which include antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays are more effective when started 10-14 days before the beginning of the pollen season (for most of the Midwest this is the first week of August). Don't stop them too soon!

    • Keep your home windows closed and run your air conditioning, air purifier and dehumidifier in order to keep your indoor environment cool, dry and as clean as possible.
    • If yard work cannot be avoided wear a dust mask and sun glasses. Rinse your nose out with a saline spray or solution immediately after coming back in. Ragweed may stick to your hair and clothing so remove your clothes and take a shower after the yard work.
    • Try to avoid exposure to other allergy triggers (for example cats, dogs and mold spores) in order to reduce the impact of cumulative allergens. Multiple allergen exposure may amplify your nasal and eye symptoms.

     

    Your summer doesn't have to end on a bad note because of ragweed allergy. If ragweed season continues to impact your quality of life see a board certified allergist. You may be a candidate for immunotherapy (allergy shots).