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Overview

While many people regard spring as prime pollen season, one type of pollen wreaks havoc in the late summer and fall. Ragweed pollen usually reaches peak levels in mid-September; this type of pollen can cause seasonal allergic rhinitis (more commonly known as hay fever), which affects as many as 23 million Americans.

There are 17 species of ragweed in the United States. The weeds grow in most regions, typically blooming and producing a fine-powder pollen from August into November.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ragweed allergy are similar to those of other pollen allergies:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Irritated eyes
  • Itchy throat

Ragweed pollen can also aggravate asthma symptoms, leading to increased coughing and wheezing.

Management and Treatment

If you’re suffering from hay fever symptoms in the late summer or fall, consult an allergist about the possibility of a ragweed allergy. Your allergist can confirm a diagnosis with a skin test — applying a diluted allergen to the surface of your skin and waiting about 15 minutes to see if there is a reaction, such as a raised red bump that itches. 

Ragweed allergies can be treated with antihistamines and other allergy medications. As with pollen season in the spring, you can try to get ahead of these allergies by starting your medication two weeks before you expect your symptoms to be at their worst. Ask your allergist whether any of your medications can be taken before symptoms develop.

Two immunotherapy options are available for severe cases of ragweed allergy:

  • Allergy shots can help your body build resistance.
  • Tablets that dissolve under your tongue are available by prescription. Pills must be started 12 weeks before the beginning of ragweed season.

Other tips include:

  • Check your local news for pollen counts, and stay indoors during the middle of the day, when counts are typically at their highest.
  • Keep your windows closed at all times, both at home and in the car.
  • Remember that pollen can be tracked into your home via your clothes, your hair or your pet — so change your clothes after being outside for long periods of time, shower before going to bed and wash your hands after petting an animal that has been outside.

Oral Allergy Syndrome

Sometimes when people suffering from hay fever eat raw fruits, vegetables or certain tree nuts, they develop an itchy mouth, a scratchy throat or swelling in their lips, mouth, tongue or throat. This can be a sign of oral allergy syndrome — when proteins in these raw foods are similar enough to pollen that they cause an allergic response by the immune system. Peeling, cooking or canning the fruit or vegetable may prevent symptoms for those with oral allergy syndrome.

Birch, grass and ragweed pollens are common triggers of oral allergy syndrome.

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