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Like all allergies, hay fever stems from a glitch in the immune system.
Instead of attacking harmful foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses,
it tries to neutralize “invaders” that ordinarily are quite harmless -- in this
case weed pollen grains that fill the air from August through October (up to
the first frost).
In someone with hay fever, inhaling these tiny particles triggers a cascade
of biochemical reactions, resulting in the release of histamine, a protein that
causes the all-too-familiar symptoms. In addition to sneezing, congestion, and
fatigue, histamine can cause coughing; post-nasal drip; itchy eyes, nose, and
throat; dark circles under the eyes; and asthma attacks.
Ragweed: The Prime Cause of Fall Allergies
Many plant varieties can cause hay fever, but the 17 varieties of ragweed
that grow in North America pose the biggest threat. Three out of four people
who are allergic to pollen are allergic to ragweed.
A hardy annual, ragweed thrives just about anywhere turf grasses and other
perennials haven’t taken root -- along roads and riverbanks, in vacant lots,
and so on. Over the course of a single year, one ragweed plant can produce a
staggering one billion grains of pollen. And it doesn’t fall harmlessly to the
ground. It floats on the breeze. Pollen has been found hundreds of miles out to
sea and two miles up into the atmosphere.
Given the profusion of pollen, is there anything hay fever sufferers can do
to limit their misery?
Conventional wisdom says that hay fever sufferers should stay indoors during
morning hours, because pollen counts are highest then. Not so, says Neil Kao,
MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of South Carolina School
of Medicine in Greenville. “I’ve reviewed 50 years of medical literature on
this, and there is simply no proof that hay fever sufferers can minimize their
symptoms by staying indoors or going outdoors at certain times of day. This is
a myth that even many general physicians believe.”
But experts say there are effective ways to curb symptoms of hay fever,
including avoidance strategies and -- if that’s not enough -- medical therapy.
Here are six proven strategies:
1. Make Your Home a Pollen-Free Haven
As much as possible during ragweed season, keep your windows shut and the
air conditioner on (and do the same while in your car). “Running the air
conditioner will also help remove moisture from the air, which helps prevent
the growth of mold,” says James Stankiewicz, MD, chairman of the department of
otolaryngology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Mold
can aggravate hay fever symptoms.”