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.


Back to School Action Plan for Allergies and Asthma

Back to School Action Plan for Allergies and Asthma

As the final days of summer break come to a close, families everywhere are preparing for children to return to school. Whether this is the first year a child is heading to school or the last, it is an exciting time for both children and parents. It can, however, also be a time of anxiety for a parent worried about a child’s asthma or allergy conditions. Below are some ways to prepare and communicate these concerns, and  back to school excitement.

Make a Plan

Schedule an appointment with your child’s healthcare provider in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. During this appointment, discuss overall heath as well as specifics regarding allergies, food allergies, or asthma. This is also a great opportunity to request that the healthcare provider refill any asthma or allergy medications. The provider can complete medication permission forms required by the school nurse during your visit. It is important the school nurse can quickly and easily confirm the medication you provide is:

  • non-expired
  • prescribed for your child
  • has clear directions on when, how, and how much to take

This is also the time to request your provider complete any additional forms required by the school. Examples are asthma action plans, anaphylaxis action plans, and food allergy alert plans with avoidance and substitution information. If your child is in their first year or is entering a new school, it is important to contact the school nurse directly. Also, if your child has complex requirements or action plans, you should visit with the school nurse yearly about their daily requirements. The nurse can discuss accommodation options available for children at the school. Other important policies to discuss include asthma inhalers, epinephrine auto injectors, classroom parties, field trips, and cafeteria rules.

Classroom Action

Back to School with Allergies and Asthma
Back to School with Allergies and Asthma

The classroom can be a source of exposure for children with allergies to dust mites, mold, and animal dander. Communicate with your child’s teacher about allergy triggers for their symptoms and what common symptoms to look out for. Don’t forget to ask if the classroom will have a resident pet. If so, what type of animal and any requirements that the pet come home with your child may be important. It is also important to understand if the school has air conditioning or if windows are typically opened on nicer days. If windows must be opened, then you can prepare your child accordingly with additional symptom control medication.

During your initial meeting with the teacher, you can begin setting appropriate expectations. Discuss things such as asthma action plans and any potential limitations for recess or physical education. Also, anaphylaxis action plans for food or stinging insects and any food avoidance requirements should be covered. You will feel confident knowing both the school nurse and teacher are fully informed of your child’s needs. The school nurse and teacher should have a consistent plan for where inhalers and epinephrine auto injectors are stored. Also confirm that there is a plan for administration of medication in a time of need. It is a good idea to ask about substitutes or classroom aides/parent volunteers confirm they are made aware of your child’s needs.

When to Stay Home

During a regular year it is often a challenge to decide when it is or is not appropriate to send a child to school with cold-like symptoms. That can be even more complex for a parent if your child has allergies or asthma. In this unique time when COVID-19 is still a major focus, another layer of complexity is added.

For children with asthma, it is safe to attend school with mild wheezing that occurs infrequently and is quickly resolving with the use of albuterol. However, it is appropriate to keep your child home from school if:

  • they experience difficulty sleeping due to respiratory symptoms
  • require albuterol every 4 hours to relieve them of things like wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness
  • have respiratory symptoms that are failing to resolve with albuterol use

Make sure to always inform the school nurse and the child’s teacher of any recent asthma exacerbations and how it was treated. Communicate any continued treatment if applicable.

If your child has an allergic reaction, make sure to inform the nurse. Also update the nurse on the allergen trigger if known, how the reaction was treated, and any ongoing treatment.

Wishing all the children a safe, healthy, and prosperous new school year!

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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.