The back-to-school season may be met with mixed reactions, largely depending upon whether you’re a student or not. But one thing most people with allergies can agree upon is not welcoming the accompanying ragweed season.
Ragweed pollen is generally at its peak from August through October or even November, depending on when the first frost occurs.
While tree pollen in the spring often comes to mind when people think of “seasonal allergies,” ragweed pollen is also one that can cause allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. Symptoms range from sneezing and stuffy/runny noses to itchy nose, eyes, ears, roof of the mouth, and throat.
According to the World Allergy Organization, allergic rhinitis affects 10-30% of the adult general population and up to 40% of children, making it the fifth most common chronic disease. Up to half of all cases of pollen-related allergic rhinitis in North America are caused by ragweed.
Treatment of these allergies are often self-initiated with over-the-counter antihistamines that may come in the form of pills, liquids, eye drops, and nasal sprays, along with intranasal steroids and saline sprays. While these therapies can be effective in treating some allergies, they may also have unwelcome side effects, including drowsiness, headaches, even nosebleeds. In some situations, these therapies may not be treating the allergy symptoms sufficiently and/or they may be triggering either new-onset or pre-existing asthma symptoms. It is recommended that the allergy sufferer consult an allergist to ensure that their individualized treatment for the season is optimized.
Some patients who have a ragweed allergy that is affecting their quality of life may want to consider immunotherapy. Immunotherapy has been found to be helpful in about 85% of people with allergic rhinitis. This process desensitizes the immune system to allergens through weekly allergy shots, or daily sublingual tablets. a few months prior to and throughout the particular pollen season, over 3-5 years.
Currently there is one FDA-approved sublingual tablet (RAGWITEK) for the treatment of short ragweed pollen-induced allergic rhinoconjunctivitis symptoms in persons 5 through 65 years of age. This can be an appropriate treatment option for patients with ragweed allergy alone.
The first step in considering whether this therapy is right for you is determining whether you are allergic to ragweed, which can be easily done through a scratch test or blood test.
Avoiding ragweed can be tricky, especially if you live in a suburban or rural setting. Adding to that is the climate change that may make those allergy symptoms worse by prolonging each of the pollen allergy seasons overall. Nevertheless, discussing your symptoms with an allergist can provide some relief. And remember: winter isn’t really that far away.