Ragweed season began in early August. Were you prepared for it? If not, don’t worry. You can immediately take some steps to get through the rest of this season. First, let’s review what ragweed is, where you find it, and when the season starts and stops.
What is ragweed?
Ragweed is a plant found throughout the US, but is more prevalent in the East and Midwest. It easily can be mistaken for other plants (i.e., goldenrod) because the flowers are tiny and face downward, making them very hard to distinguish from afar. Ragweed is primarily located in areas where new roads have been constructed and fields have been cleared.
It’s ironic that such a nondescript plant can bring so much grief to millions of people every fall. One plant can emit billions of pollen grains in a season. The pollen is microscopic and may travel hundreds of miles on windy days. Fields of ragweed from distant suburbs and prairies provide plenty of pollen to tickle the nasal passages of sensitized urban city dwellers.
When is ragweed a problem?
On an annual basis, ragweed explodes into the air in the middle of August. The pollen hangs around for about six to eight weeks based on weather conditions. It is most prevalent between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm, and when warm windy days follow rain. Ragweed season ends when the plants get annihilated by a frosty drop in the temperature, which usually occurs in October.
Here are seven steps you can take if you are currently having symptoms:
The cooler summer has allowed many of us to open windows and limit the use of air conditioning, but that wouldn’t be good for allergy sufferers. Keep all your windows closed and run the air conditioner when needed. The air conditioner will not only cool the air and reduce the impact of microscopic pollen grains streaming through door and window screens, but also reduce the additional impact of indoor mold and dust mites, which flourish in warm humid environments.
Try to avoid being around (especially outside) when yard work is being done. If you do the yard work or grass cutting, dose up on your medications a couple of hours before starting, and wear a dust mask. Discard your clothing worn during cleaning immediately afterwards, and take a shower. Be sure to use a non-sedating (non-drowsy) antihistamine to avoid the sedation and fatigue that may be associated with other formulations.
Try to time outdoor activities or outdoor exposure before 10 am or after 3 pm, if possible. Fortunately, most people are going to and from work or school at safe times, but there are exceptions that may be unavoidable.
Be consistent with allergy medications and make sure recommended nasal sprays are being used properly. Missing doses or days of allergy medications during the season may cause an increase in severity of the allergic rhinitis. This means the medication you are taking may fall short of getting the effects of inflammation back down to prior levels.
Nasal spray steroids play a central role in managing rhinitis but must be used correctly to get good results. Many people have flaws in their nasal spray technique, which limits the response. Review proper nasal technique with your doctor or nurse at least two to three times a year to prevent bad habits.
Think about other contributing trigger factors that may accompany ragweed and further aggravate allergy symptoms. Allergies to cats, dogs or other pets may piggyback on ragweed-related symptoms. Dust mite controls may need to be reviewed or updated because this common indoor trigger may be more of a factor as a result of "priming" from seasonal pollen triggers. Avoidance of tobacco smoke, fumes, fragrances, chalk dust and pollution (outdoor and indoor) may be more important during active pollen season. Obviously, a smoke-free home is crucial. An indoor air filter device may also be helpful.
See a board-certified allergist if you continue to struggle with seasonal or year-round allergies. Identifying the problem (via allergy testing), avoiding triggers (environmental controls) and adjusting medications may reduce or eliminate the suffering. Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy therapy may be the next step.