Ragweed and Other Fall Allergies

It is mid-August in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area, so that means that ragweed is beginning to pollinate. For those who are bothered by ragweed allergies, this means that it is time to stock up on tissues and over-the-counter medications. Ragweed allergy is common as approximately 10% of the U.S. population suffers from ragweed pollen. It has been estimated that ragweed causes about half of all pollen-associated allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) in North America. Ragweed also causes allergic conjunctivitis (i.e., eye allergies) and asthma in a multitude of sensitive individuals.

Ragweed is very prevalent in the U.S., particularly in the Eastern and Midwestern regions of the U.S. The only state without ragweed is Alaska. There are at least 17 species of ragweed in North America. Each ragweed plant lives only 1 season but can produce approximately 1 billion pollen grains. The pollen is even more widespread in rural areas. It typically is found along the side of the road, in fields, in vacant lots, and along riverbanks. The warm weather in combination with increased humidity and wind enhances the release of ragweed pollen which tends to begin in mid-August, peak in mid-September, and end with the first frost which usually occurs in late October in the mid-Atlantic region. The pollen released from the ragweed plant can travel hundreds of miles, so most of the U.S population is exposed. The ragweed pollen count tends to peak during the midday and is the lowest in the early mornings.

For those who suffer from ragweed allergy, you are very knowledgeable with respect to the symptoms that you develop. For others who are not familiar with ragweed allergy, here are some of the typical symptoms that you may expect: sneezing, itchy nose, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, puffy eyes, fatigue, snoring, sinus pressure, sinus headaches. In some individuals, ragweed may cause asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and/or shortness of breath. In asthmatics, it is not uncommon for ragweed to exacerbate one’s asthma. In addition, ragweed may also increase the likelihood of sinus infections (i.e., sinusitis) in some prone individuals.

One fairly common but not well known to the public nuance regarding ragweed allergies is its association with foods. There is a condition known as oral allergy syndrome (i.e., pollen-food allergy syndrome) is a type of food allergy where the patient must have a pollen allergy even if they are not aware of it. It is characterized by an itchy mouth, throat, and/or lips in response to eating certain raw or uncooked fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Occasionally, people will experience itching of their hands when touching the raw foods. The syndrome is caused by allergens in foods that are derived from plants. Thus, only foods that come from plants can cause the syndrome. Extra caution needs to be taken in cases where nuts cause symptoms because many individuals can have nut allergies that are not associated with plants and as discussed above, may be life-threatening. Ironically, when the fruit or vegetable is cooked or canned, the protein is denatured and destroyed which usually prevents the allergic reaction from occurring. In most cases, individuals can tolerate cooked and/or canned fruits and vegetables. Some examples of foods associated with ragweed pollen allergy include melons (e.g., cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), banana, chamomile tea, white potato, cucumber, zucchini, artichoke, dandelion, and sunflower seeds.

In addition to ragweed allergies, it should be noted that other allergens may play a significant role in Fall allergies. Some of the other allergens that may contribute to an individual’s Fall allergies may include dust mites, molds, pet dander, and cockroaches. It should also be pointed out that these allergens are perennial in nature and may cause allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma symptoms throughout the year, and not only during the Fall season.

The board certified allergy doctors at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating ragweed allergies and other Fall allergies for more than 5 decades. We treat both pediatric and adult patients. If you suffer from allergies and/or asthma, please call Black & Kletz Allergy to schedule an appointment with one of our board certified allergists. We have 3 offices in the Washington, DC, Northern VA, and Maryland metropolitan area. Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. We have on-site parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible, with a free shuttle between the McLean office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. Black & Kletz Allergy has been providing high quality allergy, asthma, and immunology care to the Washington, DC metro area for many years. Please call us for an appointment today or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours on the next business day.