About Ragweed Allergy
Ragweed allergy is a very common type of seasonal allergy and it is a frequent cause of hay fever. Over a dozen types of ragweed can be found to grow in North America, as well as a few dozen globally, so it is very common across the continent. Ragweed pollen can be found in many areas. For example, you will find it where there is disturbed dirt, river banks, dry fields, rural areas, and urban areas. It is therefore quite likely that you will encounter this pollen during allergy season.
Ragweed allergy season usually begins as early as July, peaking during the month of September, and ending in mid-October or when the first frost occurs. Generally, the further north a person travels, the later the ragweed season begins, since warmer climates allow for earlier growth of ragweed and other pollen producing plants. Depending on weather conditions, ragweed pollen is more offensive for allergy sufferers between 10am and 3pm. Its effect is higher if there are windy conditions and lower during rainfalls. If there are windy conditions, the pollen can travel several hundred miles; it has even been found to travel across oceans.
Ragweed allergy is caused by one of the most potent allergens among pollen producing plants. A single plant may produce a billion grains which may travel several hundred miles during the course of an allergy season. There are two common types of ragweed plants that cause allergic reactions; they are the short ragweed and giant ragweed. The most potent pollen is produced by the short ragweed, while the giant ragweed produces the most pollen.
Ragweed allergy is the biggest culprit among hay fever sufferers. Of all the people suffering from pollen type allergies, three quarters are due to ragweed. Most individuals who are allergic to one type of pollen producing plant, though, are also allergic to other pollen producing plants, so there is an element of cross reactivity. It should be noted that people with ragweed allergy need to exercise caution when eating foods that come from the same family of plants; bananas, melons, and honey for example.
Is Genetics a Factor?
Ragweed allergies are not caused by one or both parents suffering from the same allergy. Having one or both parents who suffer from an allergy does increase the risk that a child may develop an allergy, although the child may not necessarily develop the same type of allergy. While genetics does play some role in the development of allergies, it is by no means a decisive cause. Environment may be a greater determining factor, however. If a child is raised in an area where ragweed is prevalent, he or she will be continuously exposed to the pollen. It is that continuous exposure that may cause the eventual development of ragweed allergy.
Ragweed allergy causes a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to more severe. Ragweed pollen, when breathed in through the nose of someone sensitive to it, causes hay fever or, if it were to reach the lungs, may exacerbate the symptoms of those who suffer from asthma. Typical symptoms, though, include itching, sneezing, runny nose, postnasal drip, congestion of the nose, ears and sinuses, fatigue, and in more extreme cases, a loss of smell or taste.
In order to accurately diagnose ragweed allergy a physician will normally begin by taking a detailed medical history and then follow-up with testing. A skin or blood test may be performed to accurately determine if the individual suffers from this type of allergy. A skin test consists of pricking the skin with a ragweed extract and if the surrounding skin reacts, it is consistent with an allergic reaction. Blood tests to determine if a ragweed pollen antibody is present can also be performed by the physician but this is a lengthier, more expensive process and is not always necessary to determine a proper diagnosis.
As in the case of most allergies, the best treatment for ragweed allergy is to avoid the offending substance. Depending on the severity of the allergic reaction, individuals may want to consider moving to a location known for lower incidences of ragweed and other pollen producing plants. This is not always a feasible option so other measures an individual can take include:
- minimize outdoor exposure between 10am and 3pm, from July to October
- use hepa air purifiers to minimize the occurrence of pollen indoors
- ask your doctor to recommend an antihistamine that is best for you
- do not hang clothes outdoors to dry, as pollen may be collected on the clothes
- If you are outdoors for extended periods, use a mask to limit the pollen inhaled
- immunotherapy (allergy shots) to desensitize the body to the allergen
When the body is exposed to a particular allergen, it may produce antibodies to that allergen. Allergic reactions are typically characterized by the production of the IgE antibody. During allergy season, if a person is sensitive to ragweed pollen, their ragweed specific IgE levels would be elevated. With immunotherapy, a small but gradually increasing dose of ragweed allergen is injected into the allergic person, which may eventually result in a decreased sensitivity to the allergen. In addition, some allergens in small doses promote the production of a blocking antibody (IgG) which interacts with and blocks the offending allergen from linking to the IgE antibody.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for those suffering from ragweed allergy. Some of the symptoms can be relieved through the use of medications such as nose drops or antihistamines but the best course of action is to avoid exposure to the offending allergen when it is at its peak. In cases where avoidance is impractical, individuals will need to cope with their symptoms and hope that available medications such as antihistamines or other practices such as allergy shots will make the allergy season more manageable. click here to learn more about hay fever and ragweed allergy