Fall Allergies: Ragweed

Kristin Sokol, MD Allergy Medicine

SEPTEMBER 19, 2016

Summer is ending. Pumpkin spice has filled the air. And after experiencing one of the driest and hottest summers in Boston’s history, the transition to fall is a welcome relief. Well, not for everyone. If you’re part of the 10-30% of Americans with a ragweed allergy, fall can be a season of sneezing, sniffling and a whole lot of discomfort. Here’s what you should know:

How ragweed causes problems:

Ragweed is a tough, drought-tolerant plant that grows in much of the United States and is common in the Northeast. The plant blooms late in the season, tending to spread pollen and affect allergy sufferers from mid-August to mid-October, reaching peak levels in mid-September. A ragweed allergy occurs when your body’s immune sees the pollen grains released by maturing ragweed flowers as a threat, flooding your bloodstream with histamine and causing allergy symptoms. In addition to sneezing and sniffling, ragweed allergies can cause nasal congestion, irritated eyes, hives and potentially even serious sinus problems. Ragweed pollen can also aggravate asthma symptoms, leading to increased coughing and wheezing.

It’s also important to note that some people with ragweed allergies experience itching, tingling or swelling in and around the mouth as a result of eating certain fresh fruits and vegetables. This condition is called oral allergy syndrome and is commonly triggered by eating bananas, cucumbers, melons and zucchini.

Tips to reduce ragweed pollen exposure :

  • Take steps to stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their highest. In late summer and early fall — when ragweed is most active — pollen levels are highest in the morning.
  • Keep car and home windows closed and use an air conditioner. Closed windows help keep pollen outside, and an air conditioner filters as well as cools the air.
  • If you’ve been outside, make sure to change your clothes and take a shower to remove pollen from your hair and skin. Also, if you have pets that have been outside, make sure to wash your hands after petting them.
  • Consider using a HEPA air purifier to filter pollen out of your home. These can be especially useful in your bedroom, living room or anywhere you spend long portions of time.
  • Track the pollen count for your area. Visit the National Allergy Bureau (NAB) website at www.aaaai.org/nab

When avoidance isn’t enough :

For some allergy sufferers, avoidance isn’t a solution. In these cases, over-the-counter antihistamines and consistent use of an intranasal steroid spray can often provide lasting relief. If congestion is the problem, certain decongestants can help reduce symptoms. Make sure to talk with your doctor before taking any new medication to learn about potential interactions and side effects, and ask if you should start taking any medications before symptoms begin. Consider getting allergy shots for longer term relief, especially if avoidance measures and allergy medications are not improving your symptoms.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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