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Get Ready for Ragweed

Preventive measures make it possible to reduce the problems caused by pollen

SATURDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Ragweed, the bane of many allergy sufferers, will soon be in bloom.

That means several months of itchy, watering eyes, runny nose, sore throat, congestion and problems sleeping for the estimated 36 million Americans with seasonal allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

Aug. 15 was the unofficial start of ragweed season, which affects some 10 to 20 percent of Americans.

About 17 species of ragweed grow in the United States, mostly in the East and Midwest. As the plant matures, ragweed flowers release the pollen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Though each plant lives only one season, the weed produces one billion pollen grains that can travel up to 400 miles in the wind.

Allergy sufferers typically don't get relief until first frost.

Hay fever-type symptoms are the most typical ragweed reaction, though some with ragweed allergies react to eating some fresh fruits and vegetables, including bananas, cucumbers, zucchinis and melons. They develop itchiness and mild swelling around the mouth, called oral allergy syndrome.

To reduce your exposure to ragweed and deal with the symptoms, the AAAAI and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommend these steps:

  • Keep the windows closed. Use air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air, preferably with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. This helps remove pollen from indoor air.
  • Consider staying indoors when pollen or mold counts (mold is another common allergen) are high. Pollen counts tend to peak between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Rain and cool morning temperatures (below 50 degrees) slow release of pollen.
  • Have someone else mow your the lawn or rake leaves, which stirs up pollen and molds. Also, dry sheets and clothes in the dryer instead of outside, where they can collect pollen.
  • If you must be outside on high pollen-count days, wear a pollen mask.
  • Take a shower before bed to wash pollen from your hair and body and prevent pollen from settling on your pillow.
  • Some ragweed allergy sufferers get allergy shots, which alleviate symptoms in up to 90 percent of patients, according to the AAAAI. If you think you may need these, or to better determine what exactly you're allergic to, see an allergist/immunologist.

More information

You can track pollen and mold counts at the National Allergy Bureau.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, news release, Aug. 13, 2009

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