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If symptoms are severe or unusually persistent, your doctor should probably test you to find out exactly what’s causing the trouble. The real culprit might not be ragweed at all, but another environmental allergen or even certain foods, such as chamomile and banana.
Two allergy tests are widely used:
- A blood test checks for the presence of antibodies to ragweed. It’s reliably accurate, but takes up to two weeks to get results.
- A skin-prick test is fast, but can yield a false negative result if you are taking an antihistamine. Minute quantities of various substances are injected into the skin. If a wheal forms that’s larger than the control substance, the test skin prick is considered positive.
The ultimate weapon against ragweed allergy (and allergies in general) is immunotherapy. In this tried-and-true therapy — effective in about 85% of allergic rhinitis sufferers — the patient receives a series of injections of the allergy-causing agent until the body no longer mounts an immune response. The injections are typically given for several months before determining responsiveness to treatments
In recent years, American doctors — following the lead of their counterparts in Europe — have begun treating ragweed allergy sufferers with sublingual immunotherapy instead of allergy shots. Drops of liquid are placed under the tongue. Sublingual immunotherapy can be more convenient than traditional immunotherapy — no need to come in for shots — and it takes less time. Results are often seen within weeks or months.
The pollen from ragweed causes allergy symptoms in many people. These symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and itchy throat. This is often called hay fever or by its medical term, seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Reducing Ragweed Exposure
Here’s a few simple precautions can dramatically reduce your pollen exposure:
- As much as possible, stay indoors when pollen counts are highest. Typically, that’s between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tracking the pollen count in your area can help you take special precautions on high-pollen days.
- At home and in your car, keep the windows closed and the air conditioner on. Air conditioners filter the air as well as cool it. Just make sure to change or clean the filters every three months or so.
- Change your clothes after spending time outdoors. Dry clothes in the dryer — not outdoors on a line, where they might get dusted with pollen.
- Shower before bed to remove pollen, especially from your face and hair.
- Try nasal irrigation. Rinsing out your nostrils with a salt water solution once or twice a day, using a neti pot or a bottle system, such as the one made by Neil-Med. Your doctor should be able to explain how and give you a recipe for the solution.
- Equip your home with HEPA air filters. A filter in each room works best. At the very least, you should have a filter running continuously in your bedroom. HEPA vacuum cleaners can also help.
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Fall is officially here, and so are fall allergies. Ragweed usually starts releasing its pollen in late August, but that pollen can linger into the late fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about three-quarters of people who are allergic to spring plants are allergic to ragweed. Plus, let’s not forget mold. Mold spores love wet areas, which means piles of wet leaves can be its breeding ground. Dust is also a major allergy trigger. Turn on your heater and you stir them up. Those tiny bugs are in almost every home. According to The Weather Channel, Oklahoma City and Tulsa are two of America’s worst cities for fall allergies in 2015.
The top 15 worst cities for allergies are:
- Wichita, Kan.
- Jackson, Miss.
- Knoxville, Tenn.
- Louisville, Ky.
- Memphis, Tenn.
- McAllen, Texas
- Baton Rouge, La.
- Dayton, Ohio
- Chattanooga, Tenn.
- Oklahoma City, Okla.
- New Orleans
- Madison, Wis.
- Omaha, Neb.
- Little Rock, Ark.
- Tulsa, Okla.
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Outdoor air pollution is caused by small particles and ground level ozone that comes from car exhaust, smoke, road dust and factory emissions. Outdoor air quality is also affected by pollen from plants, crops and weeds. Particle pollution can be high any time of year and are higher near busy roads and where people burn wood.
When inhaled, outdoor pollutants and pollen can aggravate the lungs, and can lead to chest pain, coughing, digestive problems, dizziness, fever, lethargy, sneezing, shortness of breath, throat irritation and watery eyes. Outdoor air pollution and pollen may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma.
Actions You Can Take:
- Monitor the Air Quality Index on your local weather report.
- Know when and where air pollution may be bad.
- Regular exercise is healthy. Check your local air quality to know when to play and when to take it a little easier.
- Schedule outdoor activities at times when the air quality is better. In the summer, this may be in the morning.
- Stay inside with the windows closed on high pollen days and when pollutants are high.
- Use your air conditioner to help filter the air coming into the home. Central air systems are the best.
- Remove indoor plants if they irritate or produce symptoms for you or your family.
- Pay attention to asthma warning signs. If you start to see signs, limit outdoor activity. Be sure to talk about this with your child’s doctor.
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Check Back for Part 8
Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. Indoor allergens and irritants play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks. Triggers are things that can cause asthma symptoms, an episode or attack or make asthma worse. If you have asthma, you may react to just one trigger or you may find that several things act as triggers. Be sure to work with a doctor to identify triggers and develop a treatment plan that includes ways to reduce exposures to your asthma triggers.
Second Hand Smoke
Secondhand smoke is the smoke from a cigarette, cigar or pipe, and the smoke exhaled by a smoker. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 substances, including several compounds that cause cancer.
Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma episodes and increase the severity of attacks. Secondhand smoke is also a risk factor for new cases of asthma in preschool-aged children. Children’s developing bodies make them more susceptible to the effects of secondhand smoke and, due to their small size, they breathe more rapidly than adults, thereby taking in more secondhand smoke. Children receiving high doses of secondhand smoke, such as those with smoking parents, run the greatest relative risk of experiencing damaging health effects.
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