Ragweed is commonly found in the United states. They are most common in the Eastern states and the Midwest. 75% of Americans suffering from allergy to pollen producing plants have ragweed allergy. Seventeen species or types of ragweed grow in North America. Ragweed also belongs to a larger family called Compositae. Other members of the family that spread pollen by wind can cause symptoms. They include sage, burweed marsh elder and rabbit brush, mugworts, groundsel bush and eupatorium. Some family members spread their pollen by insects rather than wind, and cause few allergic reactions. But sniffing these plants can cause symptoms of ragweed allergy.
People with allergies to one type of pollen tend to develop allergies to other pollens as well. People with ragweed allergy may also get symptoms when they eat cantaloupe and banana. Chamomile tea, sunflower seeds and honey containing pollen from Compositae family members occasionally cause severe reactions, including shock.
The allergic reaction to all plants that produce pollen is commonly known as hay fever. Some symptoms of rag weed allergy include eye irritation, runny nose, stuffy nose, puffy eyes, sneezing, and inflamed, itchy nose and throat. For those with severe ragweed allergy, asthma attacks, chronic sinusitis, headaches and impaired sleep are symptoms.
Identify an allergy to ragweed requires a careful medical history, a physical exam and testing. The main approach to confirm a suspected allergy is the skin sensitivity test. For this, the skin is scratched or pricked with extract of ragweed pollen. In sensitive people, the site will turn red, swollen and itchy. Sometimes blood tests are used to see if an antibody to ragweed is present. This is sometimes necessary, but it takes longer for processing by a laboratory and it is more expensive.
There seems to be no cure for ragweed allergy. One of the best control method is to avoid contact with pollen especially that of ragweed. This is difficult given the amount of ragweed pollen in the air during pollination time.
- Track the pollen count for your area. This can be tracked in the news especially during high pollination.
- Stay indoors in central air conditioning with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter attachment when the pollen count is high. This will remove pollen from the indoor air.
- Get away from the pollen where possible. People in the Eastern and Midwestern states may get some relief by going west to the Rocky Mountains and beyond. Going to sea or abroad in late summer can greatly reduce exposure. But check the area abroad you plan to visit. It may have a ragweed season as well. (See the Asthma and Allergy Answer article on, “Pollen and Mold Counts.”)
You might even consider moving to get away from ragweed. Although this often helps people feel better for a short time, it is common for them to develop allergies to plants in the new location within a few years. A well thought out treatment plan is a better way to live with your allergies.
- Take antihistamine medications. These work well to control hay fever symptoms, whatever the cause.