If it’s the late summer or early fall and you’re experiencing allergy symptoms, you may have a ragweed allergy.
Ragweed allergy is one of the most common pollen allergies, affecting millions of Americans. Ragweed allergies are most frequent in the late summer and early fall.
Learn more about ragweed allergies, including symptoms, how to get a diagnosis, and how to manage your symptoms.
What Is Ragweed?
Ragweed is a common weed. It often grows in the eastern and Midwestern United States, though it can grow anywhere. It also grows in the spring but begins to flower and release pollen in the summer and fall.
“It’s the main weed pollen that people are familiar with that typically hits heavy duty in July, August, and September,” says Nathaniel Hare, MD, an allergist and immunology expert at UPMC in North Central Pa.
Ragweed is an annual plant, meaning it usually lives for just one year. It can grow anywhere from 1 to 5 feet tall and has smaller, green to yellow flowers. You can often find ragweed along the road, in fields or vacant lots, or on riverbanks.
Dr. Hare says people often mistake ragweed for goldenrod. Although goldenrod grows at the same time of the year and in similar areas, goldenrod can’t cause allergies.
One way to tell goldenrod and ragweed apart is by their flowers. Goldenrod produces abundant, bright yellow flowers, while ragweed’s flowers are smaller and lighter in color.
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What Is a Ragweed Allergy?
A ragweed allergy occurs when you have a reaction to the pollen that ragweed produces. According to estimates, one ragweed plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains.
The pollen from ragweed spreads through the air, and you can interact with it easily — especially if you’re outside.
“If it’s in the air, then it’s called windborne transmission,” Dr. Hare says. “If it’s in the air, it can get into your eyes, nose, and lungs, and cause your immune system to react to it and get allergies.”
Pollen can also come in through open house or car windows or land on your skin or clothing.
When Is Ragweed Allergy Season?
Ragweed allergy season begins in the late summer, typically late July or August. It can last through the fall, until late October or November. The first hard frost typically marks the end of weed allergy season.
What Are Ragweed Allergy Symptoms?
Ragweed pollen causes symptoms of hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis. Symptoms can affect the eyes, ears, nose, and throat; they can also cause a flare-up of asthma symptoms.
Common ragweed allergy symptoms include:
- Chest tightness.
- Crusty, itchy, red, or watery eyes.
- Ear popping or pressure.
- Fluid in ears.
- Itchy throat.
- Nasal congestion.
- Postnasal drainage.
- Puffy/swollen eyes.
- Runny nose.
- Shortness of breath.
- Skin rash or hives.
Am I Allergic to Ragweed? How Do I Know?
If you’re experiencing ragweed allergy or other allergy symptoms, talking to an allergy specialist is best. Allergists can diagnose a pollen allergy, including from ragweed, by running skin or blood tests.
To find a UPMC allergy or immunology specialist near you, visit our website.
Preventing and Managing Ragweed Allergies
There are things you can do to limit, treat, or prevent ragweed allergy symptoms. They include:
- Avoiding exposure to ragweed pollen.
- Managing symptoms with medication.
- Preventing symptoms with immunotherapy, such as allergy shots.
“Managing allergies is, I tend to think of it as a three-pronged approach,” Dr. Hare says. “You can pick from any of them or put them all together.”
Step 1: Avoid exposure to ragweed pollen
If you have an allergy to ragweed pollen, you should try to avoid exposure as much as you can. But because the pollen is airborne, you may find this difficult.
Ragweed pollen counts are usually higher in the morning than in the evening, so if possible, avoid going outdoors in the morning. Because pollen can get on your clothes and skin, you should shower and change your clothes after coming in from outside.
If possible, you should keep your house and car windows closed — especially if you have central air conditioning. If you use window air conditioning, the filters aren’t strong enough to keep the pollen out of your home. In that case, you could consider a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to help clean the air in your home.
Step 2: Manage ragweed allergy symptoms with medication
In addition to avoiding exposure to ragweed pollen, medications can help relieve your symptoms. Ragweed allergy medications may include over-the-counter or prescription drugs, such as antihistamines.
“As far as managing with medication, it’s going to be picking medicines targeted at what type of symptoms you have,” Dr. Hare says. That could include asthma medications for asthma symptoms and pills, nasal sprays, eye drops, and more for eye, ear, and nose symptoms. Talk to your doctor about which medications are best for you.
In some cases, taking your medication before the start of ragweed allergy season may help. Talk to your doctor about when you should take your medication.
Step 3: Prevent symptoms with immunotherapy
One other option for preventing symptoms is with immunotherapy. This usually takes the form of allergy shots. However, there’s also an FDA-approved under-the-tongue tablet you can take daily. In both cases, your immunotherapy treatment would need to begin months in advance of ragweed allergy season.
Dr. Hare says research has shown that immunotherapy can reduce or even eliminate allergy symptoms.
“Allergy shots, generally for pollen, average a 60% to 70% drop in symptoms,” he says. “There’s a 30% chance of curing somebody entirely, 50% of people will get better but not cured, and 20% of people, they don’t work for.”
Not everyone is a candidate for immunotherapy. Talk to a certified allergist to see if it’s right for you.
At UPMC, we treat people with a wide range of allergies and offer a full spectrum of care. To find an allergy expert near you, visit our website.
Allergy and Asthma Network, Ragweed Allergies. Link
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Ragweed Allergy. Link
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Ragweed Plants Packed with Pollen. Link
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Ragweed Identification. Link
ThermoFisher Scientific, Allergy Insider, Common Ragweed Allergen Facts, Symptoms, and Treatment. Link
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