Ragweed plants are soft-stemmed weeds that grow all over the U.S., and they are a common allergen. When someone breathes in ragweed pollen, his or her immune system mistakes it as an illness-causing substance, which causes it to produce chemicals that fight against pollen. Eventually, the person who inhales the pollen experiences allergy symptoms.
Ragweed pollen is one of the most common causes of seasonal allergies in the U.S. The reaction leads to a variety of irritating symptoms, such as sneezing, running nose, and itchy eyes. It can also trigger asthma flares.
Ragweed belongs to a larger family of flowering plants called Compositae. There are 17 types of ragweed that grow in the U.S., typically releasing pollen between August and September. These plants tend to grow in rural areas in all U.S. states, except Alaska. They usually thrive in riverbanks, roadsides, fields, and vacant lots and can stay dormant for more than 10 years. Several types of ragweed include:
- Burweed marsh elder
- Groundsel bush
- Rabbit bush
Ragweed is also resistant to herbicides, which makes it difficult for farmers to get rid of them. Their pollen counts tend to be at their highest in late summer to early fall, when the temperature is warmer.
Ragweed Allergy Symptoms
A person who is allergic to ragweed pollen may experience the following:
- Itchy eyes, nose, and throat
- Puffy eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Difficulty sleeping
In addition to these symptoms, ragweed allergy may also irritate the upper airways which leads to coughing and wheezing in someone who has asthma. In some cases, people may also develop allergic eczema after being exposed to ragweed pollen. The rashes are usually comprised of small bumps and blisters, which can appear within 24 to 48 hours after exposure, but will usually subside or resolve on its own within 2-3 weeks. Also note that people who are allergic to other substances are at increased risk for ragweed allergies.
Doctors can usually diagnose ragweed allergy, but they may still refer you to an allergist to determine the specific allergen that’s causing your symptoms. Aside from taking your medical history, he or she will then perform a skin prick test. However, having a reaction during this test does not always mean that you’re allergic to the substance. The allergist will use the test results and their own medical evaluation to devise a treatment plan.
Ragweed pollen is difficult to avoid, but there are several different treatments that can help relieve your symptoms. Antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, and medications that combine antihistamine and decongestant, are some of the possible medications your doctor could prescribe.
It is important to see your doctor and have yourself tested, before anything else. Do not take medicines that are not prescribed by your doctor, or your allergist.
The following tips may help you prevent an allergic reaction to ragweed:
- Use an air conditioner for extended periods of time and well into the fall
- Avoid going outside in the morning, when pollen counts are high
- Consider using a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or humidifier
- Clean and vacuum your house weekly
- Immediately wash clothing after wearing them outdoors
- Dry your clothes in a dryer rather than on a clothes line
- Avoid foods and herbs that contain proteins similar to those in ragweed pollen (bananas, chamomile, cantaloupes, cucumbers, Echinacea, honeydew melons, watermelons, zucchini)
Also note that symptoms related to food allergies will be worse during ragweed season. Unusual feelings such as your mouth tingling or itching after eating any of the foods listed above, warrant an immediate visit to the doctor.