The common symptoms of ragweed allergy are
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Nasal congestion
- Irritated eyes
- Itchy, watery and red eyes
- Itchy nose and throat
- Swelling around the eyes
- Sinus pressure (and facial pain)
In some instances, ragweed pollen can also cause allergic eczema. This painful, itchy rash leads to blisters and small bumps on the skin. It may appear within one to two days after exposure to ragweed pollen. The rash may go away on its own in two to three weeks. However, other irritants, such as strong odors, air pollution and tobacco smoke, can worsen the symptoms.
The distinction between ragweed allergy and COVID-19 can be extremely hard to make because they present with similar symptoms. The one way to tell if a person might have COVID-19 and not a ragweed allergy is a fever. Fever is not a common symptom in ragweed allergies whereas it is a common symptom in patients with COVID-19.
What is ragweed allergy?
According to the CDC, ragweed pollen is one of the most common causes of seasonal allergies. A single plant can produce up to one billion pollen grains. These grains are very lightweight and float easily through the air. The immune system makes a special type of defense protein, called IgE (immunoglobulin E), against ragweed. When ragweed blooms, pollen attaches to these IgE antibodies, and this triggers the release of histamine and other chemicals in the body. These chemicals cause allergy symptoms. The ragweed allergy season usually spans from early August to late October, with its peak in September.
Diagnosis of ragweed allergy
Ragweed allergy may be confirmed by a skin prick test. During this test, a small amount of the allergen is introduced to the immune system and the reaction is observed.
- To reduce exposure to ragweed pollen, it is best to avoid the outdoors between 5:00 AM and 10:00 AM and on dry, hot and windy days.
- The best time to be outside is in the late afternoon or after a heavy rain because pollen levels are lower during these times.
- After being outdoors, it is best to shower and change clothing. Pollen can adhere to clothing, skin and hair. Be aware that pets can also transport pollen into the home.
- Keep car windows and windows to your home closed. Use an air conditioner, not window or attic fans, to cool the air.
- An automatic clothes dryer should be used rather than hanging clothes outside for the obvious reasons.
- Avoid plants that produce pollen like ragweed. These include banana, zucchini, sunflower seeds, cantaloupes, cucumber and others.
While there is no “cure” for ragweed allergies, a positive test result may help the allergy doctor recommend anti-allergy medications.
Over-the-counter medicines that may ease allergic symptoms include
- Antihistamines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Claritin (loratadine)
- Decongestants, such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)
- Nasal corticosteroids, such as Nasonex (mometasone) or Flonase (fluticasone)
- Medications that include a decongestant and antihistamine, such as Claritin-D and Actifed
Unfortunately, all drugs, even over-the-counter ones, can have harmful side effects and often become ineffective over time if taken continuously. If these don’t work effectively, then immunotherapy may be needed to reduce the body’s sensitivity to the allergen. The therapies are
- A conventional allergist usually recommends allergy shots. Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy in which they inject the allergen directly into the body. The percentage of allergen in the allergy shot is increased over time. The hope is that this process will provoke a positive change in the immune system’s response to the allergen and thus, help decrease the severity of allergic reactions. The usual course of treatment is a weekly shot for the first year of treatment, twice a month for the second year, and monthly treatments for the next three to five years or longer.
- Sublingual immunotherapies are sometimes used to help treat ragweed allergies. This treatment involves taking a pill containing the allergen. The pill is placed under the tongue for a while and then swallowed. This treatment may be just as effective as allergy shots, but it also takes the same amount of time to be effective.
There are other options, such as holistic ragweed allergy treatments and advanced allergy therapeutics (AAT), which can be helpful. However, these treatments need more studies to affirm the benefits.
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