If you live in the U.S., you’re probably starting to feel the effects of ragweed pollen. Ragweed pollen allergy can cause seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as "hay fever." Its light pollen easily spreads far and wide, triggering nasal allergies and allergic asthma in its path.
If you have a ragweed pollen allergy, it helps to know what you are up against. Here are some things you may not know about ragweed.
Ragweed Season Peaks in Mid-September
Ragweed starts pollinating as early as July in some states, especially those in the South. But for most of the country, it appears in August and peaks in mid-September. Ragweed pollen can stick around as late as November, depending on where you live.
If you are allergic to ragweed, learn when ragweed pollen starts in your state. Talk to a board-certified allergist about ways to prepare for the season before it begins to make it easier to manage your symptoms when the pollen peaks.
Ragweed Grows in 49 States
If you live in Alaska, consider yourself lucky. You live in the only state where ragweed doesn’t grow. Ragweed has even been introduced to Hawaii. Within the 49 states where ragweed grows, there are 17 different types of ragweed.
Track ragweed season where you live. Check sites like AAAAI's National Allergy Bureau to follow pollen readings regularly. This will help you take steps to reduce your exposure to ragweed pollen.
Ragweed pollen peaks in the middle of the day. Spend time outside before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m.
Your Immune System May Mistake Other Plants and Food for Ragweed
There are other plants that are related to ragweed. They may cause symptoms as well. Avoid planting sunflowers, sage, burweed marsh elder, rabbit brush, mugworts, groundsel bush and eupatorium near your home.
If you have a condition called oral allergy syndrome (OAS), your mouth may itch or tingle when you eat certain foods. This is because the pollen is similar to the proteins in some foods, so your body can’t tell the difference. This is called cross-reactivity.
Food such as cantaloupes, bananas, watermelon and sunflower seeds may cause symptoms if you also have a ragweed allergy.
Rarely, OAS can trigger anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, so it is important to know if you have OAS or a food allergy and how to treat it. Some of the symptoms of OAS and anaphylaxis may be similar. If you have reactions when eating foods, talk with an allergist.
Ragweed Pollen Can Travel Hundreds of Miles
Ragweed pollen is very light, making it easy for the wind to carry it for miles. In fact, it has been found in the ocean as far as 400 miles away from the coast and two miles up in the air.
Don’t let ragweed follow you around. If you spend a lot of time outside, change your clothes and wash them as soon as you come inside. Shower and shampoo your hair every night to keep pollen out of your bed. Also have everyone who enters your home leave their shoes at the door.
Immunotherapy May Provide Relief
If you are allergic to ragweed pollen there are options for treatment. Many of them are available over-the-counter.
- Antihistamines – They work by reducing your runny nose, sneezing and itching in your eyes and sinuses.
- Decongestants – They shrink swollen nasal passages to help your feel less stuffy. Nose drops and sprays should be taken short-term.
- Nasal corticosteroids – These nasal sprays treat nasal inflammation, reduce symptoms and congestion, and block allergic reactions. They are the most effective for nasal symptoms and have few side effects.
- Leukotriene inhibitors – This medicine blocks chemicals your body releases when you have an allergic reaction.
- Cromolyn sodium – This nasal spray blocks chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, like histamine and leukotrienes.
If your allergy symptoms are not controlled with an over-the-counter allergy medicine, talk to a board-certified allergist about other treatment options. It is especially important for you to seek treatment if you have allergic asthma and ragweed pollen is a trigger for you.
Many people also benefit from immunotherapy. This can come in the form of allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT).
With allergy shots, your doctor gives you injections of allergens in an increasing dose over time. You gradually become less sensitive to that allergen.
With SLIT, you take a small dose of an allergen under your tongue. You also gradually become less sensitive to that allergen. Currently, SLIT is available for ragweed and dust mite allergies.
Medical Review August 2019.