Ragweed is annual and perennial (live more than two years) herbs and shrubs that bloom between Augusts to November and produce fine-powder pollens. It also belongs to a family of plants called Compositae and has 17 species growing in most of the regions in the United States and can be found in open areas where they get plenty of sunlight.
Ragweed may grow centimeters in height or might exceed four meters tall. The stems are tough, hairy and green to light red. The leaves grow up to six inches long and four inches across and are arranged oppositely and alternately along the stems. The blades of the leaves are pinnatifid, lanceolate in outline and the edges are smooth or toothed.
Some young leaves are hairy and glandular but the mature leaves are hairless.
Most of the higher stems terminate or turns into cylinder-shaped flowers about one to four inches long. There are one or two little more spikes that may develop near the base of the central flowering spike. These small flowers are initially green, but as they mature, they will turn to yellowish green or brown as they develop into achenes (dry indehiscent fruits with the single seed lying free in the cavity).
The male flowers produce fine yellow pollen that is carried by the wind and this is released during late July to October.
The ragweed pollen can cause an allergic rhinitis, commonly known as “hay fever”, and mostly affecting millions of Americans. Because of this, they considered it as the culprit for allergy symptoms during the fall where the first telltale signs appear.
For those who have an allergy to ragweed pollen, the symptoms may make their life miserable. They manifest the following classic symptoms:
- Itchy, runny and congested nose
- Pressure on the sinus causing facial pain
- Red, watery and itchy eyes
- Itchy throat
- Prickling mouth or ears
- Swollen eyes
- The pollens of the ragweed can worsen asthma symptoms, causing increased coughing and wheezing.
- The painful and itchy rash is usually seen as small bumps appearing between 24 to 48 hours after exposure and can go away on its own within a couple of weeks.
Same with the other types of allergies, ragweed allergy happens when the body’s immune system overreacts to a harmless foreign substance, like the tiny pollen released by the ragweed flowers that are maturing.
The body recognized this pollen as a threat and as a defense, it releases histamine into the bloodstream that causes the classic symptoms of allergy like itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and others.
The ragweed can be found in all states in the United States as well as regions of South America and many locations in Canada. An individual can come in contact with the ragweed pollen simply by inhaling the air, so those who are very sensitive to it will have difficulty avoiding it. It can also be contracted by eating or drinking, touching, or having them injected into the body. The ragweed pollen can be airborne and travel far and is found in the air miles out of the sea and about miles up in the atmosphere.
Those people who are allergic to other substances (dust mites, dander of pets, molds,
and other pollen like tree pollen) may also be hypersensitive to ragweed, too. When people allergic to ragweed breathe in the pollen allergen circulating in the air, they manifest the symptoms of hay fever. Ragweed allergy can be hereditary, which means that it can be passed from one generation to another. If you have relatives or family members with ragweed allergy, you may have it, too.
The doctor, like an allergist, will diagnose the allergic reaction or condition by first asking you about the history of the illness, including the symptoms you’re feeling.
Be open to your doctor and make sure to tell him all the information regarding the allergic reaction you’ve been experiencing. This includes how they started, how long you have been experiencing it, the time of the year they get worse and if you’re in the condition is intermittent or persistent. The doctor will also randomly do physical examination after taking your medical history.
A skin prick test is used to identify the allergen that causes the signs and symptoms.
This test is done by marking sections of your back or arm with a pen and then pricks the skin using a sterile needle.
It will take a 15 to 30 minutes to complete this procedure. If the pricked area develops redness, swelling, itchiness within 15 to 20 minutes, and if there is a raised or bump on the site, it is positive that you are allergic to that substance. However, the result does not always say that you’re allergic to the certain compound or substance. The evaluation of the allergist and the results of this skin prick test are used to determine the plan of care for the client.
Blood tests are sometimes used to tell if there is an antibody to ragweed present.
The results may take longer for processing and are more expensive to perform.
As of this time, there is no cure yet for ragweed allergy. The client will just probably experience continuous allergic reaction since the ragweed pollen is extremely hard to avoid. The best way to cope with the allergy is to reduce ragweed contact.
The following management can help relieve the symptoms of ragweed allergy symptoms.
These are over-the-counter medications which mean they are available without the doctor’s prescription.
They control the symptoms of hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and do not cause drowsiness.
These should be used every day at the beginning of the season to get the best result.
Immunotherapy (Allergy shots for severe cases of allergic reaction)
If the medications are not working, the doctor may recommend allergy shots to build body resistance. There will be series of injections of the allergen and these gradually increase over time. This helps reduce the severity of the allergic reactions and by one to three weeks after the start of the allergy shot, the client may experience relief. But it would take several months or one to two years to see the full benefit of the shots.
There are also sublingual immunotherapies used for treating ragweed allergies like a pill containing the allergen is placed under the tongue and swallow it. These must be started 12 weeks before the start of ragweed season. The pill also provides the same relief as allergy shots.
Modification of lifestyle
Here are some lifestyle changes to prevent ragweed allergic reaction:
- Do avoid going outside especially in the morning of late summer or early fall when ragweed pollen counts are at their peak. The levels of pollen are at its highest level during spring and summer.
- Close the windows at home and in the car at all times so the pollen can’t easily enter your house or car.
- Use air conditioner for long periods of time especially during the fall season.
- Use a vacuum cleaner that has high –particulate efficiency air (HEPA) filter when cleaning the house every week
- Use a portable HEPA filter or dehumidifier
- Wash clothing immediately after wearing them outdoors to get rid of pollen on them.
- Use a dryer to dry the clothes rather than drying them outside on a clothing line.
- Have a shower before going to bed and wash your hands properly after petting an animal that has been outside.
- You should stay indoors. It is between 10 o’clock a.m. and 4 o’clock p.m. when airborne pollen is at its peak.
- Consider living in a place with less ragweed, like the west coast of United States if you have severe asthma or nasal allergy and develop a treatment plan to manage the allergies
- Drink turmeric tea which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and a natural painkiller and can alleviate the side effects of the symptoms.
- Drink eight to ten glasses of water a day to hydrate self. Allergic symptoms become worst if dehydration occurs.
- Eat a lot of fresh, organic vegetables since these are anti-inflammatory foods. Include also in your diet high-protein rich foods like fish (salmon) and beef which have allergy-fighting minerals and vitamins in them.
Foods to avoid that contain a protein similar to those in ragweed pollen:
- honeydew melons
- Honey (with pollen)
- Sunflower seeds
- Chamomile tea causes sneezing headaches, runny nose, and irritated eyes and sometimes produces hives. This tea is good but you should avoid this if you are allergic to ragweed.
The symptoms related to food allergies will get worse during ragweed season. Seek medical help right away if you observed that your mouth is itching or tingling after eating any of these foods.
- Try also an elimination diet where you remove or eliminate certain foods in your diet that may cause the allergies and other digestive reactions. Then gradually introduce again these foods one at a time to know which foods are well tolerated and are not