Ragweed Allergy? Timing is Everything

Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

Once again ragweed season is rapidly approaching and will arrive at a time when many allergy sufferers may still be recovering from grass pollen and mold triggers. This year has been particularly bad because of the high humidity, associated with rainfall (unless you live near the west coast), and weather changes. Overall, ragweed season has the most predictable start time of all seasonal allergy triggers.When allergists come up with prevention plans for ragweed-allergic patients, they can find out when to begin treatment in order to minimize the effect of pollen exposure. The start times may vary depending on the region of the country you reside, but in the Midwest and surrounding regions,** August 15th is the first day of ragweed season**.

Ragweed is the major outdoor allergy trigger of late summer and early fall. It often catches people by surprise because grass and tree season end in mid-summer (in the northern parts of the U.S.). If you aren’t allergic to mold spores, you get a brief period of relief from seasonal allergies from July to the middle of August. But just when you think symptoms of a runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes are over, ragweed pollen explodes into the air, bringing all the symptoms back.

Here’s what you can do to prepare for ragweed pollen season:1)    If you already take antihistamines for allergy relief, be sure to take regular doses (as recommended by your doctor or as labeled) as early as the first week of August. For most people, it’s difficult to accept taking medicine when you don’t feel sick. But realize antihistamines work best when they are already in your system at the time you begin to breathe in pollen. Antihistamines block the effect of histamine, which is released from cells that underlie the surface of our skin, nasal passages, eyelids, lung, gastrointestinal tract. Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate and become leaky, which leads to redness and swelling.

Itching is caused when histamine stimulates nerve endings embedded in the skin. If you let the onset of hay fever symptoms determine when to start antihistamine, the effectiveness of blocking histamine is reduced. I tell patients: “It’s like a boxing coach instructing the boxer to put his arms up to protect his face from a punch, after feeling the first punch or two hit the nose.” The problem is the first punch may knock you out.

2)    Nasal spray steroids are the cornerstone in managing moderate to severe allergic nasal problems. You also want to get an early start on these, beginning preferably a week or two before the season starts. Yes, starting your daily antihistamine and once-daily nasal steroid spray may give you the advantage you need to get through a tough ragweed allergy season. Just be certain to practice good nasal spray technique.

3)    Don’t be tempted to open up your windows on cooler summer days. Ragweed pollen comes right through screens and will find its way to your eyes and nose before you know what hit you. If possible, run you air conditioning to cool down your home instead.

4)    If yard work is unavoidable, toss your clothes in the washer as soon as you re-enter your home and take a quick shower. Minimizing the amount of pollen you bring into the home on your clothes and in your hair are important.

5) Consider allergy immunotherapy if you have severe symptoms despite medications. Allergy shots are very effective in softening the blow of hay fever and asthma. Sublingual therapy may be a consideration for those who are only bothered by ragweed pollen (or grass pollen). Tablets are placed under the tongue several weeks before the pollen season starts, to desensitize you. You get the first dose in the doctor’s office, but subsequent doses at home.

6)** Ragweed season doesn’t have to slow you down if you are prepared for it. The keys are to understand what it is, when it arrives and what to do to prepare for it.**** Other postings on ragweed allergy and treatment**:

Preparing for ragweed season

Choosing the right allergy medication

Once you are in ragweed season…