Ragweed Pollen and Fall Allergies
Most cases of hay fever are caused by allergies to ragweed.
Tips to Reduce Ragweed Exposure continued...
But several simple precautions can dramatically reduce your pollen exposure:
- As much as possible, stay indoors when pollen counts are highest. Typically, that’s between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. “That’s not always easy to do,” Franzese says. “But do what you can.” Tracking the pollen count in your area can help you take special precautions on high-pollen days.
- At home and in the car, keep the windows closed and the air conditioner on. Air conditioners filter the air as well as cool it. Just make sure to change or clean the filters every three months or so. “The filters do no good if they are clogged with dirt and debris,” Franzese says.
- Change your clothes after spending time outdoors. Dry clothes in the dryer -- not outdoors on a line, where they might get dusted with pollen.
- Shower before bed to remove pollen, especially from your face and hair.
- Try nasal irrigation. Horne recommends rinsing out your nostrils with a salt water solution once or twice a day, using a neti pot or a bottle system, such as the one made by Neil-Med. Your doctor should be able to explain how and give you a recipe for the solution.
- Equip your home with HEPA air filters. A filter in each room works best. At the very least, you should have a filter running continuously in your bedroom. HEPA vacuum cleaners can also help.
Treating Ragweed Allergies
When avoidance strategies don’t do the trick, over-the-counter antihistamines like Allergra, Claritin, and Zyrtec often do.
If congestion is a problem, adding an OTC decongestant can be a good idea -- though these drugs can cause a potentially dangerous rise in blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Ask your doctor about other options if you have hypertension.
Nasal steroid sprays can also help, and Franzese says patients with allergies and asthma often do well on a prescription leukotriene inhibitor like Singulair.
Consider Allergy Testing
If symptoms are severe or unusually persistent, your doctor should probably test you to find out exactly what’s causing the trouble. (The real culprit might not be ragweed at all, but another environmental allergen or even certain foods, such as chamomile and banana.)
Two allergy tests are widely used:
A blood test checks for the presence of antibodies to ragweed. It’s reliably accurate, but takes up to two weeks to get results.
A skin-prick test is fast, but can yield a false negative result if you are taking an antihistamine. Minute quantities of various substances are injected into the skin. If a wheal forms that’s larger than the control substance, the test skin prick is considered positive.