Ah August… a big vacation month, the end of summer, fun times in the sun and fresh air. Unfortunately, August is also the month where in many parts of the world, a nasty little plant called ragweed begins to bloom and produce hundreds of billions of pollen particles that make life miserable for those of us with allergies.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), August 15, is the unofficial beginning of ragweed season – the number one cause of fall allergies. Experts estimate that some 36 million Americans - about 10 to 20 percent of the population – suffer from ragweed pollen allergy. Ragweed pollen begins to circulate late in the summer (mid-August), reaching its peak during the fall, and continuing until the first frost kills off the ragweed plants in late fall.
Ragweed grows almost everywhere in the U.S., but is most common in rural parts of the eastern and Midwestern states. Ragweed tends to grow where other plants don’t and the soil is bare, such as vacant lots and along roadways and river banks.
Ragweed plants survive only one season, but during that time they can put out up to 1 billion grains of pollen per plant. This pollen is extremely light and can be carried for many miles by wind currents. Ragweed seeds can also often survive for years in the soil, waiting to grow until conditions are right.
What to Look For
Not every person with nasal allergies will be allergic to ragweed, but many of us are. In fact, a full 75% of people with pollen allergies – that’s three-quarters of us – include ragweed as one of the pollens they are allergic to.
How will you know if you have a ragweed allergy? Well, it’s the same as any other allergy… If you have the sneezing. stuffy, runny nose, or itchy eyes, nose & throat that are typical of allergy attacks or the wheezing, chest tightness or coughing that signal an asthma attack after being outdoors in late summer or the fall, then ragweed is probably the reason.
Take Steps to Minimize the Power of Ragweed
If you suffer from ragweed allergy, don’t look for it go away any time soon. That’s not how allergies work. Once you have them, they’re probably going to stick with you for the long run. But that doesn’t mean you have to let that pesky ragweed ruin your summer vacation or derail your life during September.
There are things you can do to decrease the hold ragweed has over you, such as:
- Do your best to avoid ragweed pollen. Check your local media or websites such as Pollen.com for your local pollen counts. When levels are high, stay indoors behind closed windows/doors and with the air conditioning on, as much as you can, especially during the early morning hours or on hot, windy days. If you’re planning a vacation, think about going to the mountains or the seashore, where ragweed pollen levels tend to be lower.
- Keep – or start – taking your allergy medication. Stock up on your medicine and take it every day. Antihistamines in particular tend to work best when you take them regularly. They can take several days to reach full effectiveness.
- Consult with your doctor about other options when meds don’t get the job done. Allergy medication today can work wonders, but some people need a different approach. Ask your doctor about allergy shots and whether they might be right for you. Or try a different type of medication, such as a nasal spray.
It’s also important to know that people with ragweed allergy often suffer from a related condition called oral allergy syndrome (OAS, for short) or pollen-food allergy. This condition is a cross reaction between ragweed pollen sensitivity and sensitivity to certain foods, including bananas, cucumbers, and melons.
So, don’t let ragweed allergy prevent you from having fun this summer or fall. Take steps now to stop it in its tracks
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.