The Rub On Ragweed

Ragweed (Credit: Getty-Images/Royalty-Free)

Do you sneeze, cough and experience other common allergy symptoms at certain points of the year? For some 36 million Americans with seasonal allergies, the change of season can bring on a whole new set of symptoms and misery.

Although we typically hear about spring allergies in Massachusetts, summer allergies also are common.  Amrita Khokhar, MD, Allergist at Tufts Medical Center, discusses one of the primary summer allergy offenders, explains which symptoms to look out for and recommends diagnosis and treatment options.

How do seasonal allergies affect your breathing?
Nasal congestion can make it very difficult to breathe through your nose, making even normal activities difficult.  Sometimes, the symptoms can be worse at bedtime, since lying flat can increase congestion. Post nasal drip is a common symptom in many allergy sufferers, which can lead to coughing.  Also, people with asthma might find it harder to breath during allergy season.

What are other summer allergy symptoms and what causes them?
Common symptoms to be on the lookout for include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and itchy/watery eyes.  People who have summertime allergies often are allergic to grasses, which flourish in the summer.  

What are the allergens that are in the air during each season?
Tree pollens are most commonly found in air in the spring time, while grass pollen is most prevalent in the summer time and weed pollen is most common in the fall.  People may also be allergic to things that are found year-round, such as dust mites and animal danders. 

What is ragweed?
Ragweed is a type of weed that is found extensively throughout the country and is an extremely common cause of pollen allergies. Ragweed season starts in late summer, typically in August, and tends to last until the frost. Ragweed is known for producing a huge amount of pollen per plant, making it a top cause of allergy symptoms in many people.    

Are people in the city exposed to ragweed or it more prominent in the suburbs?

Both people living in the city and in the suburbs can have ragweed allergy.  The pollen can travel far distances on the wind, so even if you don’t have ragweed near you, you can still be exposed to it.

Is it particularly bad for people who have grass and tree allergies? 

People who have preexisting grass and tree pollen allergies are often more likely to have ragweed allergy, as well.  However, some people are just allergic to ragweed pollen alone. 

How can seasonal allergies be diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosing allergies is usually done via a skin test in your allergist’s office.  A small amount of the allergen is placed on the skin with a specialized device. After fifteen minutes, if you have an allergy, a reaction will develop on the skin. 

Treatment varies from person to person depending on how severe their symptoms are and how many months of the year they experience symptoms. Treatments can include over the counter pills and nasal sprays, prescription medications or even allergy shots. 

What can you do about ragweed allergens specifically?
Staying indoors in the air conditioning can help.  Pollen counts are usually the heaviest midday, and on windy days.  The treatment for ragweed allergy is the same as for other pollen allergies.      

For an appointment with a Tufts Medical Center allergist, call 617-636-5333.

Posted August 2018

The above content is provided for educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. It is free for educational use. For information about your own health, contact your physician.

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