It's August and ragweed season is almost here. Ragweed is one of the primary causes of seasonal allergies in the United States and this is especially true in our area. Typically, ragweed season begins in mid-August and runs through October in southern Louisiana. But in our clinics, we're seeing people who have symptoms already. For people who are allergic to ragweed pollen, this means dreadful symptoms like sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, asthma attacks, and itchy skin, eyes, nose, or throat. In fact, up to half of all cases of pollen-related allergic rhinitis in North America are attributed to ragweed.
Two of the 17 species of ragweed in North America are very common in Louisiana: giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) and common, or dwarf, ragweed (A. artemisifolia). Common ragweed can produce around a million grains of pollen per plant each day. Giant ragweed can produce more than 1.25 million
grains daily and over a billion during a plant's life. Ragweed pollen is distributed by the wind. The goal is for the pollen (the male reproductive cells) to blow around and eventually land on the female organs of flowers, pollinate them and then produce seeds. Ragweed pollen can travel hundreds of miles via the wind and result in allergic reactions in people that may live far from the source. The fact that the plants produce so much pollen and that it can travel so far, makes avoidance almost impossible for people who have this pollen allergy.
When ragweed pollen enters the nose, the majority are held in the nose by filtering mechanisms of the nasal passage that prevent it from reaching the lungs. Antibodies present in the cells of the nose then release chemicals like histamine and other inflammatory mediators. These chemicals induce increased blood flow to the area of contact and the glands of the nasal passage release mucus to digest the proteins of the pollen. Histamine also induces sneezing to help expel the allergen from the sinuses.
If you suffer from ragweed allergy, the best thing to do is take action now, before any symptoms begin. Allergy medicines work better if they are used in a preventative fashion rather than waiting until symptoms appear. If you are a ragweed allergy sufferer who has prescription medicines, now is the time to make sure that they are current and that you're not out of refills.
People with ragweed allergies should consult with a qualified allergist and discuss strategies to mitigate symptoms that may include allergy medications or immunotherapy, such as a new sublingual treatment that was approved by the FDA in April of this year. Proper treatment can ease symptoms like allergic rhinitis, asthma and even reduce the need for medications. If you are not sure whether or not you are allergic to ragweed but begin to exhibit symptoms over the next few weeks, give us a call and get tested to learn what is causing the symptoms and how best to treat them.