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.


Independence from Summer Allergies

Tips for independence from summer allergy concerns
Summer Allergy relief tips

The Fourth of July is only one week away and that likely means many are making or finalizing plans to be outside. Are you planning to be the grill master? How about the fireworks expert? Maybe you are the ultimate host of the celebration surrounded by family and friends enjoying fireworks, picnics, swimming, and outdoor activities. Here are some of the most common summer allergy tips to for attending Fourth of July celebrations. After all, it is your right to have independence from summer allergies!

Number One Summer Allergy: Grass Pollen 

During the summer months, many allergy sufferers are wary of grass pollen. They are the most common seasonal allergy triggers and are heaviest in May through August. Those that suffer from grass pollen allergies can benefit from checking their local pollen counts daily. Pollen counts tend to be the highest early in the day or as the wind picks up just before a large rainstorm.

Also, try to offer guests an indoor option during your outdoor celebration if possible. Try to offer a portion of the area where guests can sit away from tall/dense grass or shrubbery. Another options would be a non-grass surface like a deck or patio. To avoid bringing those pollens inside after a great celebration, take a shower or bath before hopping into bed. This will help rinse off any sticky allergens stuck to your body or hair before they stick to your bedding.

Summer Skin Allergy: Sunscreen Reactions

Many celebrations occur outside or around the pool, so sunscreen is important to discuss. While sunscreen is a crucial part of summer safety, sometimes it can cause a reaction much worse than a sunburn. A contact allergy to the sunscreen may present as a rash appearing where it was applied. Or it could be a reaction that appears after applying the sunblock and being exposed to the sun.

To avoid a sunscreen reaction, apply a quick and simple patch test before applying the product to your whole body. Decide on a small area, like the wrist, and apply the product. Wait at least 24 hours to make sure the skin does not react.

Summer Venom Allergy: Stinging Insects

Similar to sharing the festive star-spangled celebrations with pollen and sun, consider insects as well. We know stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are most active during summer and early fall. Also, fire ants are active all year round in many southern parts of the United States.

For many of us stings and bites can be uncomfortable and painful. However, there are many picnic guests that have life-threatening reactions that can result from a sting or bite. People who know they are at risk should always carry two doses of auto injectable epinephrine. They should have the ability to access it within 60 seconds if necessary. Try to avoid the stings and bites before they occur by refraining from walking outdoors barefoot, especially in grassy areas. Another helpful trick is to skip perfume or sweet-smelling body sprays or lotions. Also, drinking from cans or bottles that have sat open and unattended should be avoided because sometimes insects can be an unpleasant surprise. Finally, when choosing the perfect outfit for the holiday weekend, leave your vivid, floral clothes in the closest.

Summer Asthma Concerns

When we think of the Fourth of July, firework displays lighting up the sky quickly come to mind. Fireworks, although beautiful and breathtaking, can create smoke and small particulate matter. This can trigger asthma for some, taking their breath away in a not so enjoyable way. If you suffer from asthma, consider watching the fireworks from an indoor location. Similar to fireworks, smoke from grills, bonfires, firepits, or outdoor fireplaces can also trigger asthma for some. Try to avoid the direct smoke pathway and leave significant distance between yourself and the source of the smoke.

Other scented products utilized during outdoor gatherings can also contribute to air pollution and can also trigger asthma. If hosting a party, it would be helpful to contact your guests and ask if certain things like scented insect repelling candles, scented tiki torch oil, odor hiding fragrances or air fresheners trigger any negative responses for them.

If there is a swimming pool, remember that while chlorine isn't an allergen, it is an irritant and can cause problems with eye and nose itching. It can also cause breathing problems in people with asthma. If undesired symptoms are occurring while swimming, jump out, take off your suit and washing the affected area with clean water and soap to remove traces of the remaining irritant. You should have a rescue inhaler on hand, if prescribed to you, to calm any respiratory symptoms should they occur.

Summer Food Allergy Considerations

Finally, what would a summer celebration be without all the tasty food and drinks? If food allergies are present, it can make attending picnics and barbeques easier to pack your own meals or snacks to have readily available. Preparing food, yourself is always the safest option, however, it may not be feasible may not allow you to feel you are enjoying all the perks of a summer celebration. It is helpful as a host to ask about any food allergies or dietary restrictions when inviting guests to the event. It is also very helpful to label what individual dishes or offers are and include a high-level recipe or ingredient list. That way guests can privately identify safe selections off the menu in and will allow them to enjoy immersing themselves in the full experience without the worry of unknown exposure.

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.