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By: David Swender, D.O.
Summers are a great time to enjoy the outdoor activities Michigan has to offer. In August, people from around Calhoun County get out to the Fairgrounds for a wonderful week of rides, animals and activities. Unfortunately, during Fair Week, we also see an increase in the ragweed plants growing and pollinating in fields and along the sides of roads.
Ragweed is a flowering plant from the genus Ambrosia, whose various species can produce up to a billion pollen grains per plant in a single season. The pollen from ragweed can travel very long distances in the air. Under the microscope, ragweed pollens have a distinct “spikey ball” appearance, measuring about 20 micrometers in diameter (0.02 millimeters). Ragweed season typically starts in mid-August and lasts into September or October.
Ragweed allergy is a common cause of allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, diseases that cause “hayfever” symptoms such as runny, itchy eyes and nose, sneezing and congestion. Ragweed allergy can worsen the symptoms of asthma in susceptible individuals, making symptoms of coughing or wheezing more prominent this time of year. Some people with ragweed allergy notice certain foods (e.g. cantaloupe) make their mouth or throat feel itchy. This is because these foods have proteins that are closely related to the ragweed proteins that cause allergies.
In order to find out if seasonal symptoms are due to ragweed allergy, a person can be tested by an allergist. After determining if ragweed allergy is present, treatment efforts are then geared toward avoidance strategies, over-the-counter and prescription medications and allergen immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots). The Food and Drug Administration recently approved an oral version of immunotherapy for ragweed, which is taken daily by mouth in the months leading up to ragweed season. An appropriate treatment plan should be individualized, based on a person’s symptoms and testing results. If the appearance of ragweed outdoors makes you head indoors, consider seeking out an allergist to help you enjoy all that Michigan has to offer during this beautiful time of year.
David Swender, D.O. is a board certified Allergist/Immunologist with Oaklawn Medical Group. His office locations include Marshall, Beadle Lake and Tekonsha. For an appointment, please call 269-789-8291.