Everything you need to know about ragweed allergies, including what it is, what are symptoms of a ragweed allergy, what treatment options are available, what to avoid, and how to stay safe.
Ragweed allergies are some of the most common in the world, with more than half of all allergic reactions in North America caused by ragweed. Since the 1940s, ragweed has been spreading throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
Ragweed allergies are more than just taking an antihistamine in late summer. There are many cross reactions possible that can be causing ragweed reactions. Plus, with climate change, ragweed season is lasting longer than ever.
While living with ragweed allergies can seem overwhelming and difficult, it isn’t insurmountable.
This article walks you through all aspects of what is a ragweed allergy, symptoms, what to avoid, what you can still enjoy, and how to best manage your ragweed allergy.
- Ragweed allergies are one of the most common allergies in the world. The plant can now be found across the world.
- Ragweed is a member of one of the largest plant families and has the possibility to cause several cross reactions, including allergic reactions to things like Stevia, Chamomile, Echinacea, Mugwort, and Marigolds.
- While over the counter medications like antihistamines and nasal sprays are common methods of relief, there are other options available including allergy shots and other immunotherapies. Talk with your doctor about what the best treatment may be for you.
What is Ragweed?
Ragweed is a type of flowering plant in the genus Ambrosia and belongs to the aster family. There are over 40 different types of ragweed but the Common Ragweed, Ambrosia astemisiifolia, is the most common species found in North America. Giant Ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, is rare but can still cause problems.
One ragweed plant can produce up to one billion grains of pollen per season.
Originating in North America, it has since spread to the rest of the world (except Antarctica) and is considered an invasive species. Countries such as France, Sweden, and Hungary are putting great efforts into eradication of ragweed, however, they have not been successful.
What are Ragweed Allergies?
A ragweed allergy is a response of the body’s own immune system thinking that ragweed pollen or proteins are a threat. This triggers an autoimmune response known as an allergic reaction.
The body encounters the ragweed pollen or protein and stages a surge of IgE proteins and Mast Cells to counter and attack this invader in the body.
This can manifest in several different ways depending on the type of exposure. Everything from rashes to runny noses to full blown anaphylactic reactions can be caused by ragweed.
Ragweed Season! Ragweed pollen is most prevalent in North America from July through October. In Southern states and into Mexico, it can last into November.
If you are allergic to ragweed, you can have one or more of the following reactions. How quickly you react doesn’t always mean you are more or less allergic to ragweed. The reactions can occur minutes or hours after exposure.
A list of possible reactions includes:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Irritated, itchy eyes
- Hives, itching rash of the skin
- Asthma flare ups / asthma attacks
- Difficulty breathing
- Inflammation of the upper and lower airways
- Chronic Sinus infections
- Chronic Ear Infections
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Anaphylactic reactions
For some people, a life threatening reaction known as an anaphylactic reaction may occur after consuming, touching, or smelling ragweed or ragweed cousin plants.
If you have an anaphylactic reaction, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Signs and symptoms include
- Swelling and tightening of the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Change of the normal coloring of the skin and in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and in the nail beds)
- Light skin, check for signs of a dark blue tint in the mucous membranes
- Medium skin, check for signs of a gray-green tint in the mucous membranes
- Dark skin, check for signs of a gray or white tint in the mucous membranes
A diagnosis begins with sharing your history and suspicions with your doctor.
An allergist is the most common doctor to diagnose a ragweed allergy.
There are a few different allergy diagnostic tests to determine if you have an allergy or not. The doctor will know what test is best to determine what exactly you are allergic to. The most common testing for ragweed allergies is:
- Skin Prick Tests: Placing a small sample of the suspected allergen in a purified form into the top layer of skin with a small poke (not a needle).
There is no cure for ragweed allergies, just good management of symptoms.
There are many different therapies to help you control your ragweed allergy. Some of these can include:
- Over the Counter Antihistamine or Anti Inflammatory medications
- Oral tablets, liquids, eye drops, anti-itching creams/lotions, or nasal sprays
- Allergy Shots
- Allergy Immunotherapy Tablet (AIT) available with prescription
- Sublingual Tablet
- Can help to control allergic reactions to ragweed
- Currently available in the US and Canada, check with your Doctor
The best way to manage your ragweed allergy is to avoid it as best as possible and minimize any exposures that do occur.
As with most allergies, the more frequently you are exposed to the allergy, the worse your reaction will be over time.
There are some things that you can do in your daily life to help reduce your ragweed allergies.
First, in the summer and early fall, check the daily pollen counts and try to work around being outside when the levels are higher. Ragweed pollen is lowest in the early morning and typically peaks at midday. Try to be outside early and back inside by noon.
Keep the windows and doors closed at much as possible in both the house and the car.
Pollen particles are super sticky. Change your clothes when you are done outside, don’t wear outside shoes in the house, and even give your pets a quick wipe down with a pet safe wipe to remove any surface pollen stuck on the pet hair.
Bathe pets a little more frequently, if possible. Wash the pet beds weekly.
Run air filters in the rooms daily for at least one hour to change the air over at least once.
Don’t air dry laundry outside as it will pick up the pollen.
Wear a mask if you’re going to be outside during peak ragweed pollen hours (around midday).
Finally, take a shower, including washing your hair, at night time so that you are not exposing yourself to pollen all night long.
Cross Reactions for Ragweed
Because the ragweed family is so massive, there are many instances where the pollen and proteins in other plants are so similar that the body can have a cross reaction.
This is an allergic reaction and should be treated with the same attention as other allergic reactions.
Just because an item is on this list, doesn’t mean that you have to avoid all of these items. It just means there is an increased possibility of you having a reaction to one or more of these items.
- Stevia, chamomile, echinacea, mugwort, marigolds
- Lettuce, chicory, artichoke
- Daisy, dandelion, sunflowers, wormwood, safflower
- Beans, celery, cumin, hazelnuts, kiwi fruit, parsley, white potatoes, bananas, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, and zucchini
For some of these items, cooking can change the nature of the protein structure, meaning that cooking breaks down the proteins and makes them less allergic. However, celery and nuts are not affected by cooking.
People with ragweed allergies are also at an increased risk for having Oral Allergy Syndrome, a condition that is based on an allergy to birch trees and has a huge list of allergic cross reactions.
More Allergy Articles to Read
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