Ragweed Allergy: Symptoms, Treatment and More
From late summer to early fall, ragweed pollen is released from plants in all parts of the United States, causing more than 23 million people across the country to suffer from ragweed allergy symptoms: sneezing, watery and itchy eyes and runny nose.
For those with asthma, ragweed allergies, also known as hay fever, can trigger asthma attacks. Being prepared for ragweed season can help you avoid allergy symptoms and asthma triggers.
Ragweed Allergy Symptoms
Ragweed allergy — similar to other pollen allergies such as trees, flowers, and grass — can cause a variety of symptoms. These appear in August and September and last until October or November, depending on the climate.
For those allergic to ragweed, contact with its pollen will stimulate an immune system reaction, causing common allergy symptoms, including:
If you have allergic asthma, ragweed can trigger additional symptoms such as:
As you repeatedly fight the effects of ambrosia during these months, you may also begin to suffer from additional difficulties, including sleep problems, which can lead to chronic fatigue and loss of concentration. This can lead to poor performance in school or work.
Like most pollens that cause allergies, ragweed pollen spreads through the air. Pollen levels are highest during the morning hours, on windy days, and shortly after thunderstorms when the plant dries out.
Ragweed is harmless, but some people’s bodies mistakenly identify it as a threat and launch an attack on it. This activates the immune system, which releases a substance called histamine. It is histamine that causes the itching and swelling.
If you have allergic asthma in addition to a ragweed allergy, the release of histamine also causes bronchoconstriction and excess mucus, which can lead to breathing problems like coughing or wheezing.
Oral allergy syndrome
Oral allergy syndrome (OAS), or fruit-pollen syndrome, is considered a mild type of food allergy. Symptoms of ODS include itching and tingling in the mouth and throat after eating certain fresh fruits or vegetables.
Ragweed allergy is sometimes linked to this. Some may experience consistent VS symptoms year-round, while others may notice them getting worse during ragweed season.
People allergic to ragweed and suffering from OAS are most often susceptible to:
- Melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon)
- To crush
Different allergies (eg, grasses, birch pollen) are associated with different food sensitivities.
If you have allergy symptoms in late summer and early fall, pay attention to what seems to trigger them (like where and when they tend to happen) and talk to your provider health care. They will likely send you to an allergist who can perform a skin test to see if you have a ragweed allergy.
During the test, the healthcare professional will prick, puncture, or scrape your skin and place a sample of diluted ragweed on the surface. After 15 minutes, if you have had a reaction, this indicates that you are allergic to this type of pollen. You can be checked for many other allergies in the same way.
Although ragweed allergy cannot be cured, you can manage the symptoms and reduce both the frequency and severity of allergy flare-ups. If you have asthma, good allergy management can temper your immune response and also help you avoid asthma attacks.
Because ragweed exists almost everywhere and tends to occur in large quantities from August to October, complete avoidance can be difficult.
However, you can consult the number of pollens provided by the National Allergy Office and take extra precautions to limit your exposure when ragweed levels are high in your area or it’s particularly windy. At these times:
- Stay indoors as much as possible.
- Keep windows closed to prevent outdoor pollen from drifting into your home.
- Minimize outdoor activities in the early morning (5 a.m. to 10 a.m.), when the most pollen is typically emitted.
- Keep car windows closed when driving.
- Holidays in low pollen or pollen free areas (e.g. beach side, cruise, cooler climates)
- Do not dry clothes outside.
- Use a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter to remove ragweed pollen from your home.
- Take a shower and put on clean clothes after going out.
- Give a daily bath to animals that go outside.
If avoiding ragweed pollen doesn’t prevent your symptoms enough, you can consider medical treatments. Many of these are available over-the-counter, but you should talk to your healthcare provider about which ones are likely to be the safest and most effective for you. Prescription medications are also available.
Some daily treatments should be used starting two weeks before allergy season, whether or not you are already feeling the effects of ragweed. If you’re not sure when to start a medication, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Treatment is generally the same as for other types of pollen allergies, including:
- Nasal Steroid Sprays
- Allergen immunotherapy
Medicated steroid nasal sprays are used once a day during ragweed season, whether or not you have symptoms. Considered more effective than antihistamine medications, the sprays decrease nasal inflammation to help prevent sneezing, itchy nose, runny nose and congestion.
Depending on the allergies you have, your health care provider may prescribe them for use during allergy season or year round.
Common nasal steroids include:
Often referred to as “allergy pills”, some antihistamines are designed for daily use while others are taken to combat symptoms after they appear.
Common daily use antihistamines include:
Some evidence suggests that Clarinex and Xyzal may be more effective for ragweed allergies.
Antihistamines as needed include:
Leukotriene receptor antagonists
These medications are used to treat allergy symptoms and prevent asthma symptoms, and there is some evidence that they are particularly effective against ragweed allergies.
In asthma, leukotriene antagonists are prescribed as an add-on medication when another controller medication does not control symptoms well enough. If you have ragweed allergies and need an add-on medication, you may want to ask about a medication in this class.
Some leukotriene receptor antagonists on the market are:
Also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) or, more simply, allergy shots, immunotherapy targets the underlying cause of allergies rather than treating the symptoms.
The treatment consists of a series of injections just under the skin which contain small amounts of the substances to which you are allergic so that over time your body stops producing anti-allergic antibodies. The end goal is to reduce the number of allergy symptoms and reduce them.
You usually need to get the injections on a regular schedule for three to five years. It’s a commitment, but the effects can last up to a decade after the last injection.
In addition to preventing an allergic reaction to ragweed, SCIT is an effective way to help manage symptoms in people over 5 years of age with allergic asthma who are sensitive to ragweed, according to recommendations issued by the National Institutes of Health in December 2020.
The guidelines state that SCIT is suitable for people whose asthma is not well controlled, but should not be given to someone with severe asthma or showing symptoms of asthma. If you have allergic asthma and are sensitive to ragweed, ask your healthcare provider if allergy shots might be an option for you.
Some allergy sufferers benefit from a saline (salt water) rinse using a device like a Neti pot or squeeze bottle, as needed. This is an inexpensive and simple procedure that is supposed to thin mucus and remove allergens from your sinuses.
Some scientific evidence suggests that saline rinses may be effective in some people for up to three months after stopping them. However, a review of studies rated it as low quality evidence.
A word from Verywell
Managing seasonal allergies can sometimes seem like a no-win battle. Although it is possible for many people to simply live with the symptoms, the daily lives of other people can be significantly affected. If you have allergic asthma, those annoying sniffles and itchy eyes are signs that something more serious may be developing.
Work with your allergist to control reactions to ragweed so you can feel better.