Ragweed levels are on the rise as the summer months draw to a close according to Rachna Shah, MD, a Loyola Medicine allergist who oversees the Loyola Medicine Daily Allergy Count. “A spike in ragweed tends to mark the informal start of the fall allergy season, which typically begins in mid-August,” says Dr. Shah. “This time of the year, we see less tree and grass allergens and more mold and weed allergens.”
The symptoms of seasonal allergies include itchy eyes, itchy nose, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, headaches, ear itching or popping, post-nasal drip and throat irritation. And, as some allergy symptoms mirror those of COVID-19, seasonal allergy sufferers should be especially vigilant when adhering to treatment plans and precautions.
“We saw some allergy symptoms overlapping with COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic last year, including congestion, runny nose, headaches and throat irritation,” said Dr. Shah, who explains the differences between allergy and COVID-19 symptoms in a Loyola Medicine video. “As we face another spike in COVID-19, it’s a good reminder to have your preventive allergy treatment plan in place.”
For chronic allergy sufferers, seasonal treatment protocols—prescriptions, over-the-counter allergy medications and/or steroid nasal sprays—should begin as soon as possible, “as they may take a week or more to kick in.”
In addition, “allergy symptoms can worsen asthma, causing breathing difficulties, so it’s important that you have all of your asthma tools,” says Dr. Shah. “Make sure that your inhaler is up-to-date, not expired, that you have additional inhalers and refills on hand, and that you are taking preventive measures.”
Preventive measures can include modifying activities on days when allergen levels are particularly high.
If you live in Alaska, consider yourself lucky. You live in the only state where ragweed doesn’t grow. Ragweed has even been introduced to Hawaii. Within the 49 states where ragweed grows, there are 17 different types of ragweed. “Pollen counts are highest in the beginning of the day – from dawn until 10 am,” said Dr. Shah. “Shifting activities to later in the day can help a lot.” There are other plants that are related to ragweed. They may cause allergy symptoms as well. Avoid planting sunflowers, sage, burweed marsh elder, rabbit brush, mugwort, groundsel bush, and eupatorium near your home.
One thing we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that masks have multiple benefits. Not only can they help reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but they can reduce your exposure to ragweed pollen too. Wearing a mask when outside can prevent pollen particles from entering your nose and lungs, lowering your chance of having symptoms.
Sunglasses can protect your eyes from ragweed pollen too. Pollen can be irritating and may cause watery and itchy eyes. Also consider a hat to keep the pollen out of your hair.
In addition, keeping windows closed on high allergy days, and/or rinsing off or changing clothes after being outside can help. To stay on top of what allergens are highest each day, visit the Loyola Medicine Daily Allergy Count web page and/or follow the Loyola Daily Allergy Count Twitter page.
“Patients who are still suffering from allergy symptoms after adhering to their treatment protocols, taking preventive measures and/or modifying daily activities should be evaluated by a physician,” says Dr. Shah.