Your Ragweed Pollen Primer
Your eyes itch and water and your throat feels scratchy. Your nose is runny, your head feels completely stuffed up, and your face hurts from the pressure. And you want to carry a box of tissues everywhere you go.
If these symptoms appear in late summer or fall, you may be struggling with an allergy to ragweed pollen.
What is ragweed and why does it bother me so much?
Ragweed plants are common in the United States, especially in the East and Midwest. Many are weeds, shrubs and herbs. They are often found in rural areas.
Most are annuals, meaning they live just one year. They start to emerge in the spring and flower in mid-August in most parts of the country. Mid-September is when ragweed pollen is usually at its peak. The season typically lasts 6-10 weeks depending on your location, wrapping up by early November.
One ragweed plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains that can float through the air, and either produce seeds or end up in your nose, eyes or mouth, causing great discomfort if you’re allergic to it. Pollen can also collect on clothes, hair and the skin.
Ragweed allergy can lead to allergic rhinitis (hay fever), inflammation of the nasal passages.
How do I know if I’m allergic to ragweed pollen?
The only way to know for sure if you have a ragweed allergy is to see a board-certified allergist for testing. The allergist will apply a small amount of diluted allergen to your skin and wait 15 minutes to see if a raised, itchy, red bump appears. If it does, then you have a ragweed allergy.
What is the treatment?
Over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications, including antihistamines and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays, can help relieve symptoms. If you know your allergies are worse in late summer and early fall, start taking your allergy medications two weeks before symptoms are at their worst. Talk with your doctor about which medication is best for you.
Ragweed pollen immunotherapy is available either through allergy shots or via tablets that dissolve under your tongue. Immunotherapy works by boosting tolerance to allergens. Check out our new Shared Decision Making Tool for allergen immunotherapy at allergyrelief.acaai.org and discuss pros and cons of each option with your doctor.
Can I still go outside and enjoy nature?
The best way to enjoy being outside is to limit your time outdoors. Ragweed pollen counts are usually higher in the morning, right after dawn. If it’s breezy outside, there will likely be a burst of pollen in the air. Following a rain, pollen is often damp and heavy, causing it to stay still and on the ground.
How does it affect people with asthma?
People with asthma who are allergic to ragweed should be extra cautious as exposure can cause an asthma flare.
Ragweed pollen is believed to be one of the primary reasons for the September Asthma Peak – a time in mid-September when asthma-related hospitalizations spike. It happens soon after children go back to school and are exposed to more allergens as well as respiratory illnesses.
- Limit time outside when ragweed pollen counts are high – usually in the mornings through early afternoon.
- Change clothes and shoes when coming inside.
- Bathe before bedtime.
- Dry laundry indoors.
- Replace air filters in your home monthly.
Reviewed by Peyton Eggleston, MD