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Ragweed Allergy affects a large number of people. The Ragweed plant is a common weed that grows throughout the United States and many other parts of the globe. Since it is a condition that has no simple cure, and recurs every year, those affected by it need to understand the condition and know about the ways in which the condition can be kept under control. A few simple precautions can help one in reducing its severity and mitigating its impact.
Understanding Ragweed Allergy
Given the fact that those affected from Ragweed Allergy will have to live with it, the first and the foremost requirement is to understand the condition. Knowing about its seasonal nature helps one in preparing for it in advance. Being aware of the condition and its treatment also prevents the anxiety that may be associated with its occurrence.
Ragweed Allergy results from contact of the body with pollen of Ragweed plants. These plants grow mostly in vacant lands and open spaces. The pollen begins to appear in late July and extends till October. The most common symptom of Ragweed Allergy is Allergic Rhinitis, consisting of nasal irritation, sneezing, running nose and nasal block. Worsening of the condition may lead to Allergic Sinusitis, or the inflammation of sinuses. Another common symptom of this condition is Allergic Conjunctivitis or redness of eyes. In some cases, the affected person may even develop Allergic Asthma, manifested by coughing and breathing trouble. Often these symptoms also disturb sleep and may even lead to depression. With the onset of frost, the allergy usually disappears.
Confirm the Diagnosis
Since many of the symptoms of Ragweed Allergy are also observed with other diseases, it is important that one is sure about the diagnosis.
If you are having symptoms suggestive of Ragweed Allergy every year between August to October, with symptom free interval in between, then Ragweed Allergy is the likely diagnosis. However, one must get the diagnosis confirmed by a physician. There are two tests used to confirm this condition. The first of them is the Skin Sensitivity Test, wherein the skin is scratched or pricked with Ragweed pollen. In case of Ragweed Allergy, the skin will turn red and begin to itch. The other test is the Laboratory Blood Immunoessay which tests the presence of antibodies to Ragweed pollen in blood.
Monitor the Pollen Count
During the affected months, the pollen counts of the affected areas are often reported in the News reports. One can also find them from the National Allergy Bureau, or alternatively seek the details from the website of American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunity at www.aaai.org .When the pollen counts rise, one needs to take more precautions. One can also plan a trip to areas with a lower count, especially if the symptoms are too severe.
Avoid exposure to Ragweed pollen
Since there is no simple cure for Ragweed Allergy, the best strategy for dealing with it is to try and minimize the exposure to Ragweed pollen. A few simple precautions can help achieve that.
- Stay indoor - If you are severely affected by Ragweed Allergy, it may be worthwhile to limit outdoor activities. Preference for staying indoor is the first step in limiting the Allergy.
- Keep windows closed – Once you prefer to stay indoor, make sure that windows and ventilators are closed and the pollen in the atmosphere outside are prevented from sneaking in.
- Use Air-conditioning with HEPA filters - Since Ragweed pollens can get access to your offices and houses through the Air-conditioner, one needs to make sure that they are kept at bay, by using appropriate filters. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters can be very helpful for this purpose.
- Do not forget the car windows - These same precautions need to be replicated when you are moving in a car.
- Plan a trip to low pollen count areas – If you are planning to have a trip, it is preferable to go to an area where the pollen counts are lower. The options include Rocky mountains, high seas or countries where pollen count is lesser.
- Avoid drying clothes outside - Ragweed pollen can settle on the clothes and linen drying outdoors, which can subsequently lead to their contact with the body, worsening symptoms. Using a dryer may be a preferable option.
- Remove Ragweed growth around your house – If you spot any dense localized growth of Ragweed around your house or office, it may be worthwhile to get it removed, either mechanically or by way of herbicides. This would be more effective if the weed is removed in spring itself before it gives rise to pollen. However, such measures may not be very effective if there is a lot of Ragweed growing around in the area.
- Shower before bedtime & after outdoor sessions – Since in spite of all your efforts, some quantity of pollen would inevitably settle on your body, it makes sense to have a shower before going to bed, as that ensures that any pollen you might have contracted is washed off. It is even more useful after a prolonged outdoor activity.
- Masks, Sunglasses and Nasal rinses - If you are severely allergic to Ragweed and yet, cannot avoid outdoor sessions, try using a Dust Mask and Sunglasses. Having a Nasal rinse after the session may also be helpful.
Prepare & Plan for Medication in advance
If you have been suffering from Ragweed Allergy every year, and understand the pollen cycle during which your symptoms appear, it makes sense to plan for it in advance and be fully prepared for the Ragweed season.
- Consult your physician – The first thing to do is to consult your physician, tell him about your medical history, any tests already done, and your apprehensions. Make sure that your condition is Ragweed Allergy only and not something else. If necessary, get diagnostic tests done and settle the diagnosis for once and all. Also discuss about the medicines that you can take once you develop the symptoms.
- Get prescriptions and Medicines - One should have adequate stock of Medicines. One may need both over-the-counter as well as prescribed medication for dealing with the Ragweed Allergy symptoms. For prescribed medications, prior consultation, diagnosis and prescription will be needed.
- Over-the counter Medicines – Given the fact that you have to play an active role in managing your Ragweed Allergy, over-the-counter medicines play an important part. The first such medicines are the two categories of Nasal Sprays - Saline Nasal sprays and Cromolyn Sodium Nasal Sprays. Saline Nasal sprays like Xlear Nasal Wash can be used for daily cleansing especially after extended outdoor sessions and before going to bed. They help by cleansing the pollen from your nose and respiratory tract, thereby reducing chances of Allergic Rhinitis, Sinusitis and Asthma. Cromolyn Sodium reduces allergic reactions, and hence it can be started even before you develop any symptoms. It is also available as OTC formulations, like Nasal Crom sprays. Other OTC medicines that you should have with you include oral antihistamine medicines like Claritin (Loratadine) and Zyrtec (Cetirizine) and antihistamine eye drops like Zaditor (Ketotifen Fumarate).
- Prescription Medicines – These must be taken only when so prescribed by a physician after a proper clinical examination and diagnosis. Prescribed medicines that one may need include Nasal Steroids like Flonase and Nasonex and eye drops, such as Patanol (Olopatadine), Optivar (Azelastine), and Pataday (Olopatadine). Other medicines may also be required depending on severity of your symptoms and other relevant factors to be evaluated by a physician.
General Health Measures
(i) Healthy Lifestyle
While dealing with conditions like Ragweed Allergy, it is worthwhile remembering that mankind has withstood them for many centuries without medication or complex technology. A healthy body and a relaxed mind can withstand the challenge of such conditions in a much better way. It is important to eat well, exercise, relax and socialize – all in moderation, to maintain a balanced immunity. Staying away from overindulgence in smoke, liquor, work, stress, exercise or sex can be an important part of the health strategy to deal with this condition.
(ii) Nutritional supplements
Vitamins A, C and E have been claimed to have some benefits, which are likely to be generalized and may prepare the body for defending itself. A bioflavinoid, Quertecin has antioxidant anti-allergic properties. Taking it in form of 400 mg tablets twice a day may bring some benefits.
(iii) Natural remedies & Herbs
Many herbs are claimed to bring benefit to those suffering from Ragweed Allergy. These include Watercress, which one can eat as salad in small amounts. Peppermint and Spearmint can be used as supplement to steam inhalation. Eyebright tincture taken 3 to 5 drops daily is said to relieve or prevent eye symptoms. Stinging Nettle, as 435 mg capsules helps both eye symptoms as well as those of the throat. Such alternate medication may not always be helpful. It is preferable to try them only after consultation with a specialist.