How Is It Diagnosed?
To identify an allergy to ragweed or one of its relatives, requires a careful medical history, a physical exam and testing. The main approach to confirm a suspected allergy is the skin sensitivity test.
For this, the skin is scratched or pricked with extract of ragweed pollen. In sensitive people, the site will turn red, swollen and itchy. Sometimes blood tests are used to see if an antibody to ragweed is present. This is sometimes necessary, but it takes longer for processing by a laboratory and it is more expensive.
What Can I Do About It?
There is no cure for ragweed allergy. The best control is to avoid contact with the pollen. This is difficult given the amount of ragweed pollen in the air during pollination time. There is help, though.
- Track the pollen count for your area. The news media often reports the count, especially when pollen is high. You also can call the National Allergy Bureau at (800)-9-POLLEN, check it on our Asthma and Allergy page or reach it through the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology on the Internet (www.aaaai.org). It will give you the pollen count for your region.
- Stay indoors in central air conditioning with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter attachment when the pollen count is high. This will remove pollen from the indoor air.
- Get away from the pollen where possible. People in the Eastern and Midwestern states may get some relief by going west to the Rocky Mountains and beyond. Going to sea or abroad in late summer can greatly reduce exposure. But check the area abroad you plan to visit. It may have a ragweed season as well. (See theAsthma and Allergy Answer factsheet on, “Pollen and Mold Counts.”)
You might even consider moving to get away from ragweed. Although this often helps people feel better for a short time, it is common for them to develop allergies to plants in the new location within a few years. A well thought out treatment plan is a better way to live with your allergies.
- Take antihistamine medications. These work well to control hay fever symptoms, whatever the cause. The drowsiness caused by older products is less of a problem with antihistamines now on the market. Antiinflammatory nose sprays or drops also help and have few side effects. Similar agents can reduce eye symptoms, but other remedies are needed for the less common, pollen-induced asthma.
- If medication does not give enough relief, consider immunotherapy (“allergy shots”). This approach reduces the allergic response to specific allergens. For it to work, the allergens must be carefully identified. The allergens are injected over several months or years. If diagnosis and treatment are well directed, you may see major improvements in symptoms.
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