LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 27, 2015) — Who would think that an innocent looking tiny green flower would produce copious amounts of pollen, making us miserable with a stuffy, runny nose, itchy throat and eyes? This member of the daisy family is the culprit for hay fever, also known as ragweed allergies.
Ragweed season rears its ugly head in late summer through November with pollen counts at its highest levels in mid-September in most regions of the U.S. Some people with hay fever also develop asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing.
People whose parents or siblings have allergies to plant pollen are more likely to develop ragweed allergies. Also, people who have allergies to dust, animals, grass or mold tend to develop allergies to pollens, and people who already have an allergy to one type of plant pollen tend to develop allergies to other pollens.
Seasonal allergies develop when the body's immune system in a genetically susceptible person becomes sensitized and makes allergic antibodies to something in the environment that causes no problem in most people.
Some things you can do to avoid or limit contact with ragweed pollen are:
· Wash your hands often
· Limit time outdoors when ragweed counts are high and avoid mid-day when counts peak
· Windows closed, air conditioning on
· Wear a dust mask if working outside
· Don't wear outdoor work clothes inside to avoid bringing pollen in the house
· Clean and replace HVAC filters often using HEPA filters which remove at least 99 percent of pollen and other particles
· Use a clothes dryer rather than outdoor clothes lines
Climate can affect the level of pollen particles, which in turn influences symptom severity. Kentucky has recently experienced an unusual amount of rainfall, and pollen counts can actually soar after rain. Ragweed pollen thrives during cool nights and warm days. Mold grows quickly in heat and high humidity.
There is little we can do about the weather, but preparing for ragweed season now might avoid misery later. Some allergy medicines should be taken one to two weeks before ragweed season begins. Ask your allergist which medicine(s) you should take, and begin your regimen now.
Your health care provider may also recommend allergy shots. The shots contain a tiny but increasing amount of the allergen you're sensitive to. Over time, your body becomes used to the allergen and no longer reacts to it. Alternatively, sublingual drops for ragweed are also available, although this treatment will only treat ragweed allergy.
Dr. Beth Miller is division chief of Allergy and Immunology at the University of Kentucky and director of UK Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Clinics.
This column appeared in the July 26, 2015 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader