Alternaria. Aspergillus. Cladosporium. Penicillium. Unless you have a special fondness for fungi, you’re probably not too familiar with these or any of the thousands of other common molds.
But if you’re among the estimated 5% of Americans who have mold allergies, you may be all too well acquainted with the itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, and other symptoms mold allergies can cause. Severe mold allergies can even trigger potentially dangerous asthma attacks.
Ragweed causes allergy symptoms like stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. It can also trigger asthma flares.
People who have ragweed allergies are reacting to its powdery pollen. During ragweed season, one plant can release a billion grains of pollen into the air.
Ragweed is worst on dry, windy days. Pollen counts are lower when it's chilly, windless, humid, or rainy.
Ragweed season usually starts in early August and ends in mid-October. Some researchers think ragweed season may be lasting longer because of climate change.
Ragweed is everywhere. It's most common in the East and Midwest, but it's in every state. Because it's so light, the wind carries ragweed pollen far. Researchers have found ragweed pollen two miles up in the atmosphere and 400 miles out at sea.
Limiting Contact With Ragweed
Avoiding ragweed may be impossible. But there are ways to limit your exposure -- and lower your risk of symptoms. During ragweed season you should:
Avoid peak ragweed hours. Limit your time outside between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Ragweed counts are lower in the early morning and late afternoon.
Track pollen counts. Check them in the newspaper or on the Web. Stay inside when they're high.
Keep windows closed. At home and in the car, don’t open the windows. Using central air-conditioning with a HEPA filter will not only keep you cool, but also help filter out pollen.
Change your clothes and wash your hands after you've been outside. Ragweed can stick to skin or clothing.
Watch out for food triggers. Eating foods that contain similar proteins to ragweed pollen proteins can worsen symptoms. Bananas, melons, honey, sunflower seeds, and chamomile tea can trigger symptoms.
Don't dry laundry outside. It will pick up ragweed pollen. Dry your laundry in a dryer.
Treating Ragweed Allergies
Staying away from ragweed will help but may not be enough. You may benefit from:
Testing, to make sure that you really have a ragweed allergy.
OTC medications, which ease ragweed allergy symptoms.
Prescription medicine, which controls your allergies, lowering the risk of a flare-up.
Early treatment. If your doctor says it's OK, start taking medications two weeks before ragweed season starts. That way you can stop the allergic reaction before it starts.
Allergy shots, which can -- over the course of months or years -- get your body used to ragweed, so it no longer triggers an allergic reaction. There are now oral tablets placed under the tongue that contain the same type of extracts used in allergy shots.