It's almost fall, which means that in addition to pumpkin spice lattes and sweater weather, it's time to brace for ragweed season. Typically, ragweed season runs from early August until late October, early November, or whenever the first frost happens, explains Miguel Wolbert, MD, a board-certified allergist in Midland, Texas. But experts predict that this year the ragweed is going to be epically bad.
"We're actually seeing that ragweed allergies have been increasing, and part of that theory is that global warming is playing a role," Dr. Wolbert says. When there are higher carbon dioxide levels in the environment, temperatures are higher, which means that ragweed can grow for longer periods of time, he says. "The size and toxicity of ragweed is also increasing, and the pollen increases, too." In some areas, ragweed season might be two to three weeks longer than it used to be, because the first frost is arriving much later than it typically does, he says. "This is making symptoms longer and much worse, and it's more pronounced in Northern atmospheres, where global warming is thought to have more of an effect."
Ragweed is one of the most common environmental allergies that doctors see, and it's estimated that about 10% of Americans suffer from it, Dr. Wolbert says. Ahead are a few questions you might have about ragweed, and how to find relief if you are allergic:
What exactly is ragweed?
Ragweed is a type of weed that grows all across the United States and produces a fine pollen, Dr. Wolbert says. It can grow in fields, but it can also pop up in cracks in concrete, he says. There are 17 species of ragweed, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and they're all annoying. "Each plant is very caustic in terms of its allergy production," and it can produce up to one billion pollen grains, Dr. Wolbert says. "When these become airborne, they can travel over 100 miles, so they're very ubiquitous."
What are ragweed allergy symptoms?
The symptoms of a ragweed allergy are similar to those of other seasonal allergies, Dr. Wolbert says. If you are allergic, you might experience a runny or stuffy nose, itchiness in your throat, or watery or itchy eyes. "If you're prone to rashes like eczema, or if you have asthma and breathe the pollen spores in, it can cause a reaction," he says.
About 40% of people with a ragweed allergy will also experience something called "oral allergy syndrome," in which they get an allergic reaction inside their mouth from certain foods, he says. "When they eat foods, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, or banana, they have itchiness or soreness inside their throats and mouth," he says. This is directly related to a ragweed allergy, which is why some people's symptoms come and go based on the season.
How are ragweed allergies treated?
The first step for treatment would be to go to a board-certified allergist, so you can get a skin test to make sure you actually have a ragweed allergy. "Lots of things cause symptoms this time of year, and sometimes it's a sensitivity to the environment, windy weather, or mold," Dr. Wolbert says.
Once you figure out you have a ragweed allergy, there are a few things you can do to help stave off symptoms. "These plants pollenate in the early morning hours, from five to nine a.m.," Dr. Woldbert says. "We recommend not going outside to do activities during those times." If you do have to go out, showering after can wash the allergens off of your skin and hair, he says. Running your air conditioner instead of having the windows open keeps pollen from blowing inside. And if you have pets that go in and out, washing your hands after petting them is another line of defense against the dust that could be carried in on their fur.
Assuming you will have to leave your home some mornings this fall, ragweed allergies can also be treated with antihistamines, allergy medications, or immunotherapy allergy shots or drops, Dr. Wolbert says. And you should start taking your medication around two weeks before your symptoms usually hit. Lastly, be aware of the pollen count for the day by checking the National Allergy Bureau's website (there's a daily email you can sign up for, but your weather app may share this info, too). If it's going to be a particularly bad day for allergies, consider cueing up some Netflix, blasting the AC, and preparing to ride it out inside.