Ragweed and Fall Pollen Allergies

Back to school season is here! Shorter days, crisp, cool evenings, and beautiful fall foliage are on the horizon. This time also marks the onset of weed pollination and the resurgence of allergy symptoms that may have taken a vacation in the hot, dry July heat. The meteorological calendar says fall begins September 22nd, but weed pollen, the main culprit of the sniffles and sneezes during fall allergy season, is already here!

Pollen Offenders

Towards the close of summer, weeds start to pollinate. Weeds grow all summer, but their pollen is usually not released until later in the growing season. This can vary year to year but typically starts mid to late August.  Ragweed, cocklebur, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, dock sorrel, English plantain, and sagebrush can all cause fall allergy symptoms and are widely spread across the U.S.

Specifically ragweed pollen is the predominate culprit of allergy symptoms from August through October, peaking on average in mid-September. Ragweed is one of the major drivers of allergy symptoms and releases huge amounts of pollen each and every day. The pollen produced by ragweed is small and light. It is released in large quantities into the air and carried for miles by the wind. Nasal congestion, runny nose, and itchy eyes are typically caused by wind-blown pollen which is easily spread for miles and miles.

Other Pollen Types

Goldenrod, which blooms at the same time that ragweed does, is instead insect-pollinated and therefore is not a significant allergen for most individuals. Insect carried pollen is produced by plants that have bright and attractive flowers. This kind of pollen is typically large and heavy, sticks to insects, and is transported during flight fertilizing other plants. These bright flowers are commonly thought to be allergy offenders, however because they do not release much pollen into the air they are not as likely the culprit of allergy symptoms.

Ragweed and Fall Pollen Allergies
Ragweed and Fall Pollen Allergies

Manage Symptoms

Checking local pollen counts is helpful to anticipate the level of exposure on any given day. Pollen counts are determined by collecting pollen on special rods. The pollen is then counted under a microscope and calculated in grains per cubic meter of air. Pollen counts tend to be the highest early in the day, or often when the wind picks up just before a large rainstorm. If you like dancing in the fall rain, or jumping in rain puddles, however, you are in luck. During a rainstorm and immediately following, pollen becomes still and dormant because the rain makes it damp and heavy. As the air becomes warmer and drier following the storm, however, the pollen count will rise again.

Pollen Avoidance

Those with weed pollen allergies should try to avoid heavily dense wooded areas or those with brush and shrubbery. These areas should be especially avoided in late August when pollen is the most dense and abundant. Pollen counts are never zero, nor will an allergy sufferer truly be able to avoid weed pollen in the late summer and early fall. However, contact may be lessened by taking simple steps to avoid pollen overload:

  • Utilizing the air conditioner or heater
  • Keeping the windows and doors at home and in the car closed
  • Utilizing the dryer rather than the fresh breeze to dry clothing
  • Changing clothes after coming in from being outdoors
  • Shower prior to getting into bed or laying on upholstered furniture

These easy steps will help to decrease pollen exposures. Also, one benefit COVID-19 may bring allergy sufferers, is that wearing of some masks will help to minimize the amount of pollen reaching the nasal passages if being worn in outdoor settings.

Get Tested

If someone is unsure whether weed pollen is a trigger for their back-to-school nasal congestion, runny nose, post nasal drip, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes, seeing their provider for an allergy test may provide the clarity they are looking for!

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Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedInor TwitterSee other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.


Summer allergy avoidance tips

Summer Allergy Travel Tips

School is out, summer is in full swing, and it is prime time for summer vacations and traveling. Summer travel with environmental allergies, asthma, or food allergies may make planning a vacation seem like a daunting task. Not to worry! We can show how to keep summer allergy issues at bay during your staycation, beach trip or wine tour of your dreams.

Summer can be an ideal time to travel. The hot summer months can actually provide relief to some, like those with tree pollen allergies. Unfortunately for others, summer comes with its own allergy triggers. While tree pollen counts tend to be lower, the summer heat pushes grass and mold pollen to be higher. Ragweed begins to appear in the late summer and early fall months to kick off fall allergies. Pollen is not the only trigger you can expect; more stinging insects and hotter temperatures in summer months can complicate matters for asthma sufferers.

Summer Allergy Location Tips

 

Summer allergy travel tips
Tips for summer allergy travel. Paspalum seed heads, filled with seeds, surrounded by grasses and other weeds.

Location is everything! One consideration is that pollen counts tend to be lower on the coast, so beaches may be a good option. The desert, or alternatively snowy mountain tops, can also be ideal for pollen, although maybe not for summer travel. Does your vacation involve hiking or mountain climbing? Dust mites do not prefer elevations above 2,500 feet, so that may be a great choice as well. Wherever you decide to go check the allergen forecasts for that area. You should also check current pollen counts each day there. If high pollen counts are in the forecast, consider planning inside activities during your trip.

Checking pollen counts may not be the only forecast to make sure to monitor. As the temperatures rise, you can expect the humidity to rise as well. Many who suffer from asthma can find their condition aggravated by the high temperatures and humid climate. When planning your time outside during the summer, check the air quality for low humidity and low ozone days. You can also avoid triggers by planning around the heat of the day when possible.

Packing for Vacation

Although your favorite swimsuit may be more fun, allergy control measures should equally be at the highest priority. Staying compliant to your recommended treatment protocol in the days before you leave is crucial. These measures will support well-maintained symptoms while traveling, and for the duration of the trip.

  • Make sure to pack allergy medication and immunotherapy in a carry-on bag if traveling by plane.
    • Try to keep medications in original packaging and pack all medication and allergen immunotherapy in a separate, clear bag.
    • Any liquid or gel medications or immunotherapy will need to individually be 3-4 ounces or smaller. Consider purchasing travel sizes if standard sizes do not meet this requirement.
  • Pack 1-2 days of additional medication or immunotherapy than what will be needed in case of delay when traveling.
  • It may be beneficial to set a reoccurring alarm on a phone before leaving. Normal routines may change with travel and vacation plans.
  • Finally, are you traveling out of the country? If you are traveling to a non-English speaking location, bring a list of your allergies in the native language. You may also learn to say or write  “I’m allergic to _____.” in the local language.

Additionally, do not forget to pack any hypoallergenic hygiene products that you regularly use. Examples might be sunscreen, after sun cream, lotions, ointments, body wash, or laundry detergent. When searching for accommodations, remember that more and more hotels offer items like mattress and pillow covers or hypoallergenic linens so you may not have to pack your own. It may also be helpful to ask about smoke free rooms, away from humid, mold friendly pool areas if possible. If pet dander is a concern, take note of whether the location is “pet friendly”.

Summer Allergy Avoidance Tips

Air in enclosed spaces such as planes and trains can sometimes be extremely dry.  Consider investing in nasal saline spray or washes, as well as portable humidifier. A humidifier will likely also be beneficial if staying in a hotel for more than a night or two. Staying well hydrated with water and non-caffeinated beverages will also greatly help you combat drying out. If traveling by car, considering utilizing the heat or air conditioning and keeping windows closed. Also, turning on the heat or air 10 minutes before departure can help clear vents of any residual allergen particles.

While enjoying your destination, remember that peak pollen times are typically early in the day (specifically 5am 10am). Scheduling desired outdoor activities for later in the day or just before dusk may help to reduce exposures. Similarly to when you are home, a daily shower is helpful for allergen avoidance. Showering before bed will help to wash away allergens that have adhered themselves to your skin or hair. This is especially important to maintain so that your pillow, sheets, and the immediate space you breathe in all night is allergen free.

Insect Allergies

Another aspect of the summer allergy concerns may be insects. If stinging insect allergies are present planning ahead can alleviate a lot of anxiety and allow for a smooth trip. Always make sure to carry a minimum of two epinephrine auto injectors if it has been prescribed to you or a loved one. Make sure the epinephrine autoinjector is carried in a way it can be accessed and administered within 60 seconds of a need arising.

If you or a loved one does have life threatening allergies, it is a good idea to check with your health insurance and ensure you know where to seek medical care should the need arise while you are out of town. You may also consider carrying an allergy identification card. It can be helpful to keep a card in your wallet listing your allergies, and also emergency contact information and your healthcare provider information. This can be especially important for children who may be summer camps or staying overnight with friends or family.

Food Allergies

If food allergies are present, packing your own meals or snacks may make traveling easier. Preparing food yourself is always the safest option. Alternatively, research the local dining hot spots you wish to visit in advance of leaving for your trip. This allows you to identify safe selections from the menu or you can call to request proper menu accommodations. You may still consider packing your own snacks if you have food allergies. While it may be possible to plan meals around food allergies, snacks often present more of a challenge. Pack allergy friendly snacks, especially if lengthy plane rides are involved.

 

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedInor TwitterSee other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.


Baseball season for allergy sufferers

Tips for Balancing Baseball and Allergies

Spring means longer days, warmer weather, and the beginnings of baseball! Unfortunately for some allergy suffers, the start of the long-anticipated baseball season also means the time of year when allergens such as tree pollen are at an all-time high. Sneezing, wheezing, and itchy, watery eyes can make games or practice challenging for you or your little leaguer. Even more concerning? The thought of major league games and contact with baseball’s favorite sidekick...peanuts! You can still enjoy this spring and baseball season with a little planning for your allergies.

Eliminating all outdoor sports and activities may seem like the best decision, and for many, it is. However, if skipping out on baseball or other outdoor sports due to allergies just is not an option, we can help. Here are some tips that will help allergy suffers enjoy watching America’s pastime and PLAY BALL!

Airborne Allergy Tips

Check the weather forecast before heading to the game. When checking out the weather, it is good practice to also check the pollen counts in the area. Keep in mind that peak pollen times are typically in the first half of the day, specifically 5am 10am. Attending practices or games midday or in the afternoon may help to reduce exposures.

Baseball and outdoor allergies don't have to be in competition with one another. If you have a little leaguer, packing wet wipes is good practice. Wiping down their hands, face and neck can be helpful to combat those distracting allergy symptoms when out on the diamond. Also, make sure your favorite player is not relying on allergy medication that could make them drowsy. There are non-sedating medication options, or allergen immunotherapy that are worth discussing with their provider.

After a long practice or game, it is beneficial to change your clothing as soon as possible. Also helpful is an immediate shower, especially before crawling into bed. The shower will help to wash away any allergens that have adhered themselves to your skin or hair. This is especially important so that the allergens aren't transferred to your pillow or sheets, remaining in the immediate space you breathe in all night.

Planning for Stinging Insects and Food Allergies

If your allergies include stinging insects or even food, planning ahead can alleviate a lot of anxiety. Always make sure to carry a minimum of two epinephrine auto injectors if there is a known insect or food allergy. Make sure the epinephrine auto injectors can be accessed and administered within 60 seconds if the need arises.

If food allergies are present, especially peanut, legume, or tree nut, it can make the lyrics “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks” send shivers down your spine. Fortunately, most large baseball stadiums across the country have become aware of the dangers and distress surrounding food allergies and have started to offer peanut-free games or special accommodations for food allergy families with peanut-free designated seating. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization typically releases an annual guide outlining which major league and minor league baseball stadiums offer peanut aware sporting events. Along with utilizing their helpful guide, FARE recommends “to reach out directly to the venue to learn more about their efforts”.

Some suggested questions to have ready when you contact the venue about are:

  • Are there any [peanut] allergy friendly games, sections, or suites available?
  • Does the venue utilize power washing for seating, and traffic pathways at the stadium?
  • Can you find ingredient lists or are they available upon request at the concessions?
  • Do they allow families to bring in their own safe meals and snacks?
  • Are emergency responders available to the public at every game, and are their sections closer to these personnel?

Planning and communication are key to enjoying baseball season and balancing your outdoor allergies. Talk to family, friends, coaches, players, and venues, to create a plan that is right for your family. However, missing out on baseball season does not have to be part of that plan. If you or your loved ones are not quite sure if allergies are playing a role, or if the over-the-counter allergy medication just is not cutting it, you have options. There is still time to see your provider and discuss allergy testing and begin allergen immunotherapy.

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About the Author:

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and immunology. 

 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter. See other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.

https://unitedallergyservices.com/blog/patients/5-ways-tame-seasonal-allergies/

https://unitedallergyservices.com/blog/patients/versus-fall-alergies-will-win-7-tips-fight-allergies/