If your allergies tend to flare up during late summer or early fall, you’re probably experiencing what is known as a ragweed allergy. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that around 15% of the people in the U.S. experience symptoms of ragweed allergies during this time of the year. Symptoms can range from a runny nose to excessive sneezing and even itchy eyes. If you have a ragweed pollen allergy, you must know how difficult life can be when you have a flare-up of these symptoms.
But what is a ragweed allergy and what does ragweed look like? We answer all this and more in this article. Here we discuss some of the most interesting facts about ragweed pollen allergies that you may not know.
What is a ragweed allergy?
Ragweed allergies are a type of allergic reaction caused by the ragweed plant, which is a common allergen throughout the United States. There are seventeen types of ragweed plants that are grown in the US and are usually made up of multiple leaflets with a fern-like appearance. Just one plant can release and spread over a billion pollen grains, causing seasonal allergies to thousands of people across the country.
People with allergies tend to have more sensitive immune systems to protect their bodies against harmful allergens such as bacteria and viruses. When someone with allergies breathes in pollen, their body tries to defend itself against the foreign substance; even though it may be harmless, in this case, it is ragweed pollen. This causes their body to trigger an allergic reaction which leads to the symptoms of ragweed allergies.
Ragweed pollen is one of the primary triggers for allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as Hay Fever, in North America. They can cause many symptoms, including:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy eyes, throat, or nose
- Puffy eyes
- Mucus in the throat
Additionally, ragweed allergies may also cause loss of sleep due to its symptoms and they may also trigger asthma flares for those with asthma.
Ragweed allergies facts
1. Foods and plants can trigger ragweed allergies
Your immune system might also mistake other plants and foods for ragweed pollen which might trigger an allergic reaction within your body, causing symptoms of hay fever to develop. Plants that are related to ragweed such as marsh elder, rabbit-brush, mugwort, sunflowers, eupatorium are common plants that can also cause symptoms of hay fever. People with ragweed allergies should avoid planting these in their homes.
Additionally, if you have a ragweed allergy, you may also experience symptoms when you eat certain fruits and vegetables including cantaloupes, bananas, cucumbers, zucchini, white potato, watermelon, and honeydew. This is caused by a condition known as oral allergy syndrome (OAS) due to which you might experience an itchy mouth, throat, face, or tongue while eating these foods. This is because the proteins in these foods are similar to the ones in pollen and your immune system might end up confusing the food with ragweed.
2. Ragweed pollen can travel very long distances
Ragweed pollen grains are extremely light, which is why they can get scattered to vast distances by the wind. Ragweed pollen grains have been found up to four hundred miles away from the coast in the sea and up to two miles away in the air from the actual plant source.
Some types of ragweed pollen grains are even spread by insects instead of by wind and can travel away from their plant source. This means that when it comes to spreading to different places, ragweed knows no limits. Ragweed may even follow you home after it lands on you. This is why you should always try to limit the spread of ragweed pollen to your house during the allergy season. You can do so by:
- Leaving your shoes at your door and asking everyone in your house to do the same.
- Covering your hair when you go outside.
- Washing your hair and face after being outdoors.
- Changing the air filters in your home frequently.
- Keeping your windows closed.
- Avoiding wearing contact lenses to avoid pollen particles from building up on the lenses.
3. Your ragweed allergies might peak in mid-September
Depending on where you live, ragweed season might start as early as the end of July and last up to the end of October, at the sight of the first frost. The flowers mature in the nights of early August or late July and the warm weather and light breezes help the flower release ragweed pollen after sunrise. However, your ragweed allergies might get worse in mid-September because that’s when ragweed season tends to peak. After all, ragweed gets worse on cool nights and dry days.
If you’re allergic it’s always best to know when ragweed season begins in your area so that you can be prepared and learn to stay away from ragweed pollen as much as possible to manage your symptoms easily.
4. Ragweed is everywhere
While ragweed is most common in the East or Midwest, it can be found in almost every state in the US. Seventeen different types of ragweed are grown in over forty states. It thrives in almost every state except Alaska and because the ragweed pollen grain is so light, it spreads easily and expansively through the wind. This means that avoiding ragweed pollen may very well be impossible but you can still limit your exposure to them and lower your risk of symptoms. Remember to follow pollen readings regularly where you live to track pollen counts and plan your outings accordingly,
5. Ragweed pollen peaks in the mornings
On an average day, ragweed pollen counts are at a peak from dawn to midday before gradually declining. So the pollen count is highest usually at dawn till the afternoon, while the lowest pollen counts are usually recorded a few hours before dawn or during the evening. However, other factors such as wind, rain, and temperatures can also heavily influence the release of pollen. Wind can stir up pollen in the air, raising the pollen count, while rain and humidity can dramatically lower pollen counts. If you know the time of the day when pollen counts are likely to be high and what factors can affect pollen counts, you can better plan your day and manage your ragweed allergies.
6. Allergen immunotherapy can treat your allergies
If the symptoms caused by your ragweed allergies are severe, you might want to consider allergen immunotherapy that may help you. Allergen immunotherapy involves repeated exposure of allergen extracts to allergic patients to provide long-term relief of symptoms. By exposing your body to your allergens in small doses over time, your immune system becomes less sensitive to the allergen triggers.
If you’re considering allergen immunotherapy as a treatment option for your allergies, you should talk to a certified allergist first. An allergist can take you through all your treatment options and guide you towards the best solution to your problems.
7. Poor indoor air quality can make ragweed allergies worse
While outdoor air quality can significantly affect your allergies, poor indoor quality can negatively impact your allergies as well. Studies have shown indoor air to have two to five times the number of allergens than outdoor air. In addition to ragweed, allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pesticides, mold, and dust can affect your indoor air quality and worsen your condition. If you have concerns about seasonal ragweed allergies and their effects on your health, you should consider cleaning and replacing your HVAC filters and vents regularly to ensure that all rooms in your house have proper ventilation.