Ragweed allergy

November 12, 2012

Ragweed allergy

Hay fever symptoms can be a result of an allergy to ragweed, but thankfully for many allergy-sufferers the plant is mainly found only on one continent – America.

Towards the end of summer many Americans begin to feel the onset of hay fever symptoms – sneezing, itchy eyes, nose and throat, blocked or runny nose, which all then combine to make sleeping difficult as well – making this particular season a miserable one for sufferers, some of whom may also be affected by asthma.

This type of late summer hay fever is very often the result of ragweed allergy.

What is ragweed?

Ragweed plants grow in rural areas across the United States. They are hardy, annual plants – killed off by the first frost – which can produce as many as 1 billion pollen grains. The ragweed begins to mature and release pollen in late summer, this release is hastened by humidity, warmth and evening breezes. Research shows that pollen counts near the plants are highest in the very early morning and peak in urban areas between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Pollen count is affected by the weather – rain and cooler weather being good news for ragweed allergy sufferers.

Ragweed allergy

The role of the body’s immune system is to deal with those foreign substances which pose a threat to health. Individuals with allergies appear to have immune systems that are particularly sensitive. The immune system of a ragweed allergy sufferer will produce a reaction to ragweed allergens in the air which are harmless to most people.

As many as 3/4 of Americans who suffer pollen allergies are found to be allergic to ragweed – it appears that an allergy to one kind of pollen is likely to induce allergies to other pollens. Individuals who are allergic to ragweed may also develop typical symptoms of an allergic reaction when they eat cantaloupe melon or banana. Other possible triggers include chamomile tea, sunflower seeds and honey which has been gathered from plants within the same family as ragweed.

Ragweed allergy can produce severe symptoms and should not be lightly dismissed.

Diagnosis

Where a ragweed allergy is suspected the medical practitioner will take a detailed medical history from the patient followed by a physical examination and allergy testing. Skin sensitivity testing is the preferred method of confirming an allergy.

Skin sensitivity testing

The skin of the patient is scratched or pricked with a ragweed pollen extract; if the site becomes inflamed, red and itchy then the allergy is confirmed.

Blood tests may also be used to confirm the diagnosis but are lengthier and more expensive than skin sensitivity testing.

Treatment

Because there is currently no cure for ragweed allergy the best approach is prevention of the symptoms – best done by avoiding contact with the pollen which, of course, may be difficult if not impossible. However there are some steps which can be taken which may help reduce contact with the pollen

  • Keep an eye on the pollen count in your locality – easy to do nowadays when many media outlets include it as part of the weather forecast.

  • Use a HEPA filter attachment on your air conditioning when the pollen count is high and stay indoors whenever possible.

  • Remove yourself from the locale – take a vacation for example during ragweed season.

Treatment of the symptoms, whilst not affecting a cure, should enable a sufferer to continue with their normal day to day activities during ragweed season.

  • Antihistamines – known to control hay fever symptoms in most cases; newer products no longer cause the same drowsiness in patients.

  • Anti-inflammatory nose sprays or drops may help reduce stuffiness and improve breathing.

  • Eye drops will soothe itchy eyes

In extreme cases, where a sufferer fails to find any relief from the symptoms of the allergy, immunotherapy may be advised – this may take a number of years but if well carried out has shown much success in the relief of allergy symptoms.

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