What Is Ragweed Allergy with Asthma?

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From late summer to early autumn, ragweed pollen is released from plants in areas throughout the United States, causing more than 23 million people across the country to suffer hay fever symptoms: sneezing, watery and itchy eyes, and runny nose. For those with asthma, the problem is more serious since ragweed allergies can trigger asthma attacks. Being prepared for ragwood season can help you avoid allergy symptoms that can be inconvenient and asthma triggers that can be debilitating.

Ragweed Symptoms

Ragweed allergy, similar to other pollen allergies such as trees, flowers, and even marijuana, may cause a variety of symptoms. These begin to appear in August and September and last until October or November, depending on the climate.

While not everyone exposed to ragweed will develop ragweed allergy, contact with the ragweed pollen will stimulate an immune system reaction in some people causing common allergy symptoms:

If you have allergic asthma, ragweed can trigger additional symptoms such as:

As you repeatedly fight the effects of ragweed during these months, you may also begin to suffer additional difficulties, including problems sleeping, which can result in chronic fatigue and loss of concentration. This can lead to poor performance at school or work.

Causes

Like most pollen allergies, ragweed pollen is spread through the air and is too small to be seen with the naked eye. The pollen is highest during the morning hours, on windy days, or shortly after a rainstorm when the plant is drying out.

Harmless in itself, ragweed is identified as a threat in some people's immune systems. In those instances, your body sees the pollen as a harmful foreign substance to be fought. When the immune system is activated, a substance called histamine is released. This histamine causes itching and swelling.

In the case of allergic asthma triggered by ragweed, the release of histamine also causes bronchoconstriction and excess mucus, which leads to breathing difficulty.

Food Allergies and Ragweed

Ragweed allergy can also be related to certain food allergies. Itching and tingling of the mouth and throat after eating certain fresh fruits, especially during ragweed season, can be a sign of a ragweed allergy. This condition is termed oral allergy syndrome, or fruit-pollen syndrome.

Ragweed allergies are associated with sensitivities to apple, banana, carrot, peach, watermelon, banana, zucchini, cucumber, and squash.

Diagnosis

If you are suffering allergy symptoms during ragweed season, your allergist can confirm a diagnosis with a skin test.

Your doctor will prick, puncture, or scratch your skin and place a diluted ragweed sample on the surface. After about 15 minutes, the area is checked to see if there is a reaction, which would indicate you have an allergy.

Treatment

While there is no cure for ragweed allergies, the symptoms can be managed, decreasing both the frequency and severity of allergy flare-ups. This in turn can help you avoid an asthma attack.

Avoid Ragweed Pollen

Because ragweed occurs nearly everywhere and it tends to occur in such large amounts from August to October, total avoidance can be difficult. However, you can check out the pollen counts provided by the National Allergy Bureau and take extra precautions to limit your exposure when ragweed pollen counts are high.

How to Avoid Ragweed Pollen

  • Keep windows closed to prevent outdoor pollen from drifting into your home.
  • Minimize early morning activity (from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.) when the most pollen is usually emitted.
  • Keep car windows closed when driving.
  • Stay indoors on high-pollen count and windy days.
  • Vacation in low or pollen-free areas: beachside, a cruise, cooler climates.
  • Do not hang laundry outside to dry.
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove some ragweed pollen from your home.
  • Daily, bathe pets who go outdoors.
  • Shower and change clothes after going outside.

Medication

If avoiding ragweed pollen doesn't sufficiently prevent your ragweed allergy symptoms, you may consider medical treatments that can help control symptoms. These may include

  • Nasal steroids: Medicated nasal steroid sprays such as Flonase (fluticasone) decrease nasal inflammation to ease sneezing, itchy nose, runny nose, and congestion.
  • Leukotriene receptor antagonists: These drugs are prescribed as add-on medication when you continue to have symptoms with a preventer inhaler.
  • Allergen immunotherapy: These "allergy shots" have been shown to reduce symptoms of allergies.

A Word From Verywell

Managing seasonal allergies can sometimes feel like a no-win battle. While it's possible for many people to just live with the symptoms, if you have allergic asthma, those inconvenient sniffles and itchy eyes are a warning sign that something more serious may develop. Work with your allergist to get ragweed reactions under control so you can avoid a possibly serious asthmatic episode.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Ragweed Allergy. Updated April 23, 2018.

  2. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Ragweed Pollen Allergy. Updated August 2019.

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  6. Mastrorilli C, Cardinale F, Giannetti A, Caffarelli C. Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome: A not so Rare Disease in Childhood. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019;55(10). doi:10.3390/medicina55100641

  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Skin test. Updated April 16, 2018.

  8. Seidman MD, Gurgel RK, Lin SY, et al. Clinical practice guideline: allergic rhinitisOtolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015;152(1 Suppl):S1-43. doi:10.1177/0194599814561600

Additional Reading
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Ragweed Allergy

  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Topic of the Month: August 2006: Ragweed, allergies and hay fever