When fall arrives, ragweed allergies come with it. For some, it’s a mild annoyance that requires nothing more than over-the-counter medications to remedy. But for others, fall can be one of the most miserable times of the year, with symptoms ranging from a runny nose to irritating itchy skin.
If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, fall ragweed season can worsen your condition. To minimize symptoms, it’s important to know what you’re up against and how best to prepare.
What Is Ragweed Pollen?
Ragweed pollen is one of the most common causes of seasonal allergies. Ragweed is a small, inconspicuous plant that grows in fields, vacant lots, and along roadsides throughout the United States. Each plant can produce up to a billion grains of pollen per season. The pollen is light and dry, making it easy to disperse in the wind. It’s also small—just 18 to 30 microns in diameter—which means it can easily pass through your nose and into your lungs.
Seasonal Symptoms: What Is Ragweed Allergy?
An allergy to ragweed pollen, like other seasonal allergies, is an immunological response to the ragweed pollen released. Ragweed season typically begins in mid-August and lasts through the first frost, which can be as late as November in some parts of the country. For many, ragweed pollen is the primary trigger for fall allergies, and 75% of those who have spring allergy symptoms are allergic to ragweed.
The symptoms of ragweed allergies are similar to those caused by other airborne allergens like dust mites or pet dander. They include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Coughing or wheezing
- Sinus pressure
- Itchy skin
The pollen count is usually highest in the morning, so you may notice your symptoms are worse when you first wake up.
Is Ragweed Allergy Related to Food Allergies?
Ragweed allergy is not the same as a food allergy, though the two conditions are often confused. A ragweed allergy is caused by an immune system reaction to ragweed pollen, while a food allergy is caused by an immune system reaction to a protein in certain foods.
However, those who suffer from ragweed allergies may also have adverse reactions to certain meals. This is known as oral allergy syndrome (OAS). It occurs when people eat specific uncooked fruits or veggies, causing mouth and throat itch.
Foods linked to ragweed allergies include:
- Melons (cantaloupes, watermelon, honey dew)
- White potatoes
Cross-reactive proteins found in these foods are similar to the ones in ragweed and responsible for these oral symptoms. If you suspect you suffer from OAS, you can lessen any tingling, burning, and/or itching sensations by peeling, cooking, or baking triggering foods. This action destroys the proteins and eliminates symptoms. If you have a severe allergic reaction to any food, seek emergency medical attention.
What Is Ragweed Rash and How Do I Treat It?
Ragweed allergy can also cause a skin rash characterized by small, itchy bumps. This condition is known as ragweed rash or ragweed atopic dermatitis. It generally appears on the eyelids, sides of the neck, and folds of the forearm. The rash is common among farmers, gardeners, and others who spend time outdoors.
People diagnosed with a ragweed allergy but were negative in a skin prick test may still get ragweed rashes.
To reduce ragweed rash symptoms:
- Minimize exposed skin when outdoors, wearing long sleeves and pants
- As soon as you get home, wash your clothing to avoid spreading pollen indoors
- Treat itchy rashes with over-the-counter antihistamines or hydrocortisone creams
If you suffer from severe allergic reactions, see a doctor for prescription medications and see if you’re a candidate for long-lasting allergy therapy.
Can Ragweed Allergy Cause Itchy Skin or Hives?
Yes. Ragweed allergy symptoms include itchy skin and hives, sneezing, and irritated eyes. Ragweed itchy skin may be accompanied by rashes. Antihistamines can relieve ragweed-induced itchiness while minimizing your reactions.
Do I Live in a Ragweed Season Hot Zone?
Ragweed is found throughout North America, except for Alaska. The plant grows best in dry, sandy soil and full sunlight and is commonly found in rural areas, along roadsides, and abandoned lots. But ragweed can also be found in cities and suburbs.
While ragweed pollen is a problem across the United States, hot zones for the allergen include:
- The Midwest (especially South Dakota)
- The Great Plains (particularly North Dakota)
- The Southeast (especially Georgia)
Ragweed season starts earlier and lasts longer in these regions than in other parts of the country. If you live in these hot zones, check pollen counts regularly. Avoid being outdoors when the pollen count is high.
When Does Ragweed Season Officially Begin?
Ragweed season typically starts in August, but it can begin as early as July in some parts of the country. The exact timing of ragweed season depends on the weather conditions in your area.
How Long Does Ragweed Pollen Season Last?
Ragweed season typically lasts from late August to early November, with peak activity between mid-September and the first frost. As temperatures rise, the first frost appears later and later each year, resulting in a lengthened allergy season. Ragweed season can range from six to 10 weeks in length.
How Do I Treat Ragweed Allergies and Rash? What Is The Best Antihistamine for Ragweed Allergies?
Ragweed allergies are treated in the same way as other environmental allergies. Antihistamines and nasal sprays are popular choices to treat ragweed allergy symptoms. They block histamine and other inflammatory chemicals, stopping your body from overreacting to allergens.
Antihistamines can be taken orally or through a nasal spray. They come in both over-the-counter and prescription strength. The best antihistamine for ragweed allergies depends on the severity of your symptoms and other medical conditions you may have. Antihistamines offer short-term relief. They work quickly (typically within 24 hours) and should be taken daily to maintain symptom relief during the allergy season.
Nasal Steroid Sprays
Nasal steroid sprays, such as Flonase, treat a wide range of symptoms similar to antihistamines. They provide more focused nasal relief by relieving nasal congestion. Because these sprays take up to two weeks to give maximum protection, it's best to start taking them ahead of the onset of ragweed season.
Decongestants and Expectorants
Antihistamines are effective for temporarily relieving some symptoms, but they can't cure congestion or reduce mucus, which typically accompany ragweed allergies. Many allergy sufferers opt for expectorants and decongestants to alleviate secondary allergy symptoms, such as congestion and mucus.
For severe cases of ragweed allergies that don't respond well to over-the-counter medications, immunotherapy can be a good option. Immunotherapy involves receiving regular small doses of allergens to help build your immunity. Immunotherapy is most effective when started before the beginning of ragweed season. Immunotherapy is the best treatment option for long-term relief from your ragweed allergies.
Can I Treat Ragweed Allergy Without Medicine or Antihistamines?
Yes, though severe cases respond better to treatment. If you don't want to take medication or if you're looking for additional relief, there are several things you can do to limit your ragweed allergy symptoms:
- Wash your hands and face often, especially after being outdoors
- Keep windows closed
- Avoid gardening and other activities that expose you to pollen
- Change your clothes after spending time outdoors
- Shower before going to bed to remove pollen from your hair and skin
- Don't hang laundry outside to dry as pollen sticks to clothes that are hung outside
- Clean floors, countertops, and other surfaces regularly during ragweed season using a damp cloth or mop
Can Ragweed Pollen Trigger Other Conditions Besides Allergies?
For most people, ragweed allergies can be controlled with a basic but strict treatment of antihistamines, nasal sprays, and decongestants. Ragweed allergy may cause symptoms such as asthma, chronic sinusitis, and headaches in some individuals. Consult with your doctor to see if additional treatment is needed to manage more severe reactions.
Ragweed Allergies Don't Need to Last a Lifetime
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