Because Ragweed Season Officially Begins Now
What is ragweed?
Ragweed is a plant that grows from mid-August through the first frost and wreaks havoc with allergies. It grows wherever it can get a toehold: farmland, construction sites, along roads, and possibly even in your backyard. If the ground is bare and disturbed, it is an open invitation to ragweed.
One ragweed plant can produce one billion grains of pollen in a single year. By comparison, a corn plant produces only 4 million grains in a year. Additionally, ragweed pollen can travel around 400 miles on the wind so it doesn't even have to grow close to you to be a problem. So you can see the far-reaching effects of ragweed.
There are about 20 species of ragweed in North America, but the two most common are called short ragweed and giant ragweed. Short ragweed or common ragweed is found in more locations than any other species. It can grow to 4 feet in height. The leaves have a fern-like appearance and grow opposite each other on the stem. Giant ragweed is not found as often, but it is the biggest pollen producer and can grow to as tall as 15 feet.
Why is ragweed important to me?
If you are one of the 20% of Americans who suffer from hay fever, ragweed is important to you. Anyone allergic to pollen of any type has a 75 percent chance of being allergic to ragweed. This weed is singled out as an enemy to allergy sufferers mainly because of the sheer volume of pollen it produces and the distance the pollen can travel on the wind.
It is estimated that around 3.8 million work and school days are missed every year in the United States due to ragweed. If you have nasal congestion, sneezing, eye irritation, or itchy eyes, nose or throat every year in late summer through fall, you could be one of those statistics. To be sure if your symptoms are caused by ragweed pollen, you can visit an allergist or ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist) for testing. If you are allergic to ragweed, your doctor may suggest antihistamines or allergy shots to alleviate your symptoms.
What can I do to avoid ragweed and its pollen?
There are many things you can do on your own to reduce exposure to ragweed. Get started with the following tips from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI):
- Keep windows closed at all times during ragweed season to prevent pollen from drifting into your home. Use air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air.
- Minimize outdoor activity when pollen counts are high. Peak pollen times are usually between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Keep your car windows closed when traveling.
- Take a shower after spending time outside, pollen can collect on your hair and skin.
- Don't hang sheets or clothing outside to dry. Pollens can collect on them as well.
- Minimize exposure to other known allergens during ragweed season, since symptoms are the result of a cumulative effect of multiple allergens and non-allergic triggers.
Washing clothes and bedding in an allergen reduction laundry detergent helps get rid of irritating pollen. A window screen filter can be an enjoyable solution to the need to keep pollen out but let fresh air in. Keeping updated on the pollen levels for your area can also be helpful in planning activities.
What else can I do to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever caused by ragweed?
Nasal irrigation is frequently recommended to help control ragweed symptoms by removing the irritants. Rinsing pollen out of the nasal and sinus passages can help prevent or reduce allergic reactions to ragweed. There are two main methods of irrigation: gravity-based and positive pressure. In both, salt of various types (table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, etc.) or concentrations (isotonic vs. hypertonic) is added to water for the rinse. This is important since salt is integral to our body composition. You can buy pre-mixed solution, solution packets to mix with water, or mix your own saline solution.
Gravity-based irrigation typified by the neti pot allows water to flow naturally in one nostril and out the other nostril with the head tilted sideways. Positive pressure irrigation sends the water up into your nostril and through your sinuses to cleanse away mucus. It gives you more control over the water flow and research has shown this method to work better. Products such as Breathe-Ease, SinuAir, SinuCleanse Squeeze, and NasalCare fall into this category. Also in the positive pressure category are mechanized methods of irrigation such as the SinuPulse Elite and Hydro Pulse that send pulsing streams of water into your nose and sinuses in a motion that mimics the natural motion of the cilia. All of these positive pressure devices are effective. Which one you choose is really a matter of personal preference.
Utilizing methods of cleaning your indoor air are also beneficial in relieving hay fever symptoms. Ragweed pollen is exceptionally light so it remains airborne for a long time where it can be captured by quality HEPA room air purifiers that pull the air in the room through a filter by means of a fan. Your HVAC system also pulls air in your home through a furnace filter. Leaving the system's fan on all the time during ragweed system can provide extra filtration by constantly pulling air through the filter where pollen is trapped. Attaching a filter to your incoming air vents, especially in the bedroom, captures pollen missed by the furnace filter that is traveling through your ductwork.