Now that fall harvest season is upon us, along with all the wonderful sweater weather, and pumpkin spice flavored foods comes seasonal ragweed plant pollen allergies. Typically, ragweed season runs from early August until late October, early November, or whenever the first frost happens.
What Is a Ragweed Allergy?
Ragweed plants are soft-stemmed weeds that grow all over the United States. There are at least 17 species of ragweed that grow in North America. The plants are most often found in rural areas and open spaces that get plenty of sunlight.
Depending on the location, ragweed may begin spreading its pollen as early as the last week of July and continue into the middle of October. Its wind-driven pollen can travel hundreds of miles and survive through a mild winter.
What Causes Ragweed Allergy
Many people have an adverse immune response when they breathe in the pollen. Normally, the immune system defends the body against harmful invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, to ward off illnesses. In people with ragweed allergies, however, the immune system mistakenly identifies the harmless pollen as a dangerous intruder and begins to fight against it. A natural substance called histamine is released when the body encounters ragweed pollen. The histamine causes many uncomfortable symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes.
What Are the Symptoms of a Ragweed Allergy?
Your symptoms may vary at different times of the year, depending on where you live and the weather. However, the most common ragweed allergy symptoms include:
- itchy, watery eyes
- scratchy throat
- runny nose or congestion
- coughing or wheezing
- sinus pressure, which may cause facial pain
- swollen, bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes
- decreased sense of smell or taste
- poor sleep quality
How Is a Ragweed Allergy Diagnosed?
Your family doctor can usually diagnose a ragweed allergy. However, they may refer you to an allergist for allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis. An allergist is someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies and will give you a definitive diagnosis.
Medicines that can ease symptoms include:
- antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or oxymetazoline (Afrin nasal spray)
- nasal corticosteroids, such as fluticasone (Flonase) or mometasone (Nasonex)
- medications that combine an antihistamine and decongestant, such as Actifed and Claritin-D
Ask your doctor about prescription drugs, such as montelukast (Singulair), if over-the-counter medications are ineffective.