What makes ragweed season so bad

You’ve seen the weeds growing along the roads of Illinois and Iowa. That tall, spiky green plant with the yellow flowers on top. If you drive with the windows down and you’ve got allergies, you’re probably sneezing all the while!

For years, I cursed that plant, thinking it was the root of my ragweed allergy. Problem was, I was cursing at the “Canadian Goldenrod” plant! When you look at it, they are very similar. The biggest difference is the leaves. Goldenrod has long, slender leaves. Ragweed has jagged leaves (not too unlike an oak leaf). But Goldenrod doesn’t even put pollen into the air…it’s pollinated by insects. Ragweed, on the other hand, looks like a jagged, spiky ball under the microscope and is definitely airborne!

Ragweed grows better when it’s wet out but the plants aren’t producing enough pollen to cause symptoms until this time of year. Yesterday I spoke with Dr. Mark Blaser, an Allergist at the Medical Arts Association of Moline, and he says that the dry weather of August allows the plant to crack, allowing the pollen to drop from the plant. With our recent dry weather, this could be a bad year for allergy sufferers! A stiff, dry wind will carry the pollen for long distances, and if the trajectory is right, it will end up right in your sinuses! In times of wet weather, the pollen won’t travel very far as the rain will wash it out of the air. So if you’re allergic, you should plan for the times right after rain.

Many people believe that ragweed continues to get worse until the first frost. While Dr. Blaser says the pollen production ends with the first frost, the counts usually peak in late August and early September. “Counts really go down between September 15th and September 20th. Typically, the first frost occurs in the first week of October, ending the allergy season completely.

Are you allergic? 1 in 7 people’s bodies “overdo” the immune response to inhaling ragweed. Too many antibodies create histamine. This is what causes runny noses, swollen, watery eyes, and coughing. Luckily, most of us can take care of this with over-the-counter medicine. If that doesn’t help, a HEPA filter or air conditioning will decrease the amount of allergens in the air.

sources: Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Dr. Mark Blaser, Medical Arts Assoc., Moline, Illinois

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