Ragweed season is here. What you can do to find relief.

October is here, and that means ragweed season has arrived. In Pennsylvania, allergy seasons start about 20 days earlier and last 9 days longer than they did 30 years ago. The concentration of pollen is about 21 percent thicker than it was in 1990.

“In Pennsylvania, we’re always in the middle of some sort of allergy season,” said Dr. Kara Kimberly, an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at Penn Highlands Healthcare. “Whether it’s tree pollen in the spring, grasses in the summer, ragweed in the fall or indoor dust during the winter, there’s really no time of the year that is allergen-free.”

Ragweed is one of the most common culprits for autumn allergies, and it’s the most common trigger for hay fever. In fact, one in five people in the U.S. experience reactions to ragweed pollen.

What is ragweed?

Ragweeds are plants that bloom and produce a fine powder pollen as summer turns into fall. There are 17 species of ragweed in the United States, and while it’s more common in the East and Midwest, every state is home to at least one species. In Pennsylvania, the most common ragweed species is ambrosia artemisiifolia.

One ragweed plant can release a billion grains of pollen into the air, and because it’s so light, it can travel very far. Scientists have found ragweed pollen as high as 2 miles in the atmosphere and as far as 400 miles out at sea.

What are the symptoms of ragweed allergies?

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Asthma flares

When is ragweed pollen the worst?

Ragweed season in Pennsylvania starts in early August and lasts until mid-October. It thrives when nights are cool and days are warm and dry. Ragweed pollen levels tend to be highest in the morning, and while pollen is washed away by rain, pollen counts tend to rise after rainfall.

How can you limit your exposure to ragweed pollen?

  • Track pollen counts in your area and stay inside when they’re high.
  • Avoid going outside during peak hours, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Keep your windows closed.
  • If you have central air conditioning, use a HEPA filter.
  • Change clothes and wash your skin after you’ve been outside.
  • Don’t dry laundry outside.

Did you know foods containing similar proteins to ragweed pollen can worsen symptoms?

Watch out for these triggers:

  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Honey
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chamomile tea

How can you treat ragweed allergies?

There’s no cure for ragweed allergies, so avoiding contact with ragweed pollen is the best way to avoid allergies. But avoiding contact may not be enough, so your healthcare provider may recommend you take over-the-counter or prescription medication to relieve your symptoms.

  • For people with mild symptoms, an over-the-counter oral antihistamine may be enough.
  • For people with frequent symptoms, an over-the-counter nasal steroid is generally the best treatment.
  • Your healthcare provider may recommend that you start taking medication two weeks before ragweed season starts, giving your body enough time to stop the allergic reaction before it starts.
  • Depending on your symptoms, your provider may recommend allergy shots or oral tablets that help your body develop a tolerance to ragweed, so that it no longer triggers a reaction.

“Allergies are very dependent on geographic region and environmental factors,” said Dr. Kimberly. “When you talk to your healthcare provider, be sure to mention the symptoms you experience, the time of year you experience them, where you experience the worst reactions and anything else than can help us pinpoint what you’re allergic to so that we can provide the best possible treatment.”

Penn Highlands Ear, Nose and Throat offers experienced care for conditions of the ear, nose and throat, including allergies, as well as issues related to the head and neck. For more information, visit www.phhealthcare.org/ent.