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Health, Science & Tech

No Reprieve from Ragweed for Allergy Sufferers this Season


An unusually hot and dry summer in the Pittsburgh area may have had some hoping that it would lead to some relief from ragweed allergies, unfortunately the hot temperatures and lack of rain had little to no impact on the plant, according to Dr. Barry Asman, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Monroeville.  “Ragweed has been growing all summer long. For some reason, the ragweed seems to be drought resistant, whereas my yard has not been drought resistant. Ragweed has been growing, I’ve been watching it on the side of the road, it’s been tall and healthy looking,” said Asman.

That’s not great news for seasonal allergy sufferers. The ragweed starts to pollinate when nighttime temperatures fall below about 60 degrees – which is happening right about now. It will continue until the first couple of frosts.

Some people think they can just cut down all the ragweed in their yards to avoid allergies. But Asman said that won’t do much because the problem is the pollen. “It’s not the leaves, it’s not the weed itself, but the pollen, and the wind comes up and blows the pollen around. We’ve done studies and found ragweed pollen 300 miles at sea where there’s no ragweed at all. So, you can cut down all your ragweed, you can get rid of all of it in your yard, but you’re still going to be affected by ragweed.”

The good news, said Asman, is there are steps that can be taken to prevent a miserable late summer and early fall. He said one thing is to get tested to find out what exactly you’re allergic to, and then limit exposure. For example, he said, if ragweed is a problem limit outdoor activities to the afternoon, since pollen counts are highest in the morning; drive with windows rolled up and air on re-circulate in the car; keep bedroom windows closed; and don’t dry sheets outdoors. He said medications can also be helpful.

“Some of them are over-the-counter medications, some of the non-sedating anti-histamines that will not make you sleepy, that’s a good place to start,” he said, “we have special anti-inflammatory nose sprays. Those are prescription ones, but they work beautifully when they’re used the way you’re supposed to, and the way you’re supposed to use those is everyday medicine.”

But, Asman cautions against using over-the-counter nose sprays because some of those can leave you worse off than before their use.

Pollen counts are just now starting, so it remains to be seen how high they will be or how long a time period they will be elevated, but Asman said he thinks the Pittsburgh area will be in store for a substantial allergy season this year.