When it comes to allergies, spring gets the big headlines. Pollen from flowering trees and other flora bombards people’s immune systems, turning them into watery-eyed, runny-nosed, sneezing messes. But not me! I waltz through spring, tip-toeing happily through the tulips. But come August, I get my comeuppance in the form of incessant sneezing and red, itchy eyes. The culprit? Ragweed.
Beginning in mid-to-late August and running into October, the evil ragweed plant (or Ambrosia artemisiifolia, as it’s known in scientific circles) releases pollen into the air. Because ragweed pollen is extremely light, it travels far and wide on late-summer and early-fall breezes. It easily spreads from rural and suburban areas where it typically grows in abundance, flooding urban enclaves. What’s more, each ragweed plant releases up to 1 billion pollen grains! Found in 49 states (only Alaska has been spared) and much of Canada, ragweed allergies affect somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. population.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) says the best way to control ragweed allergies is to avoid pollen in the first place. Here’s how you do that:
1. Track the pollen count
Many local TV news programs report the pollen count as a part of the weather forecast. For on-demand regional pollen levels, visit The National Allergy Bureau (NAB) website and find the closest spot to you in the dropdown list. The NAB publishes data daily from pollen and mold counting stations across the country.
2. Stay indoors when pollen counts are high
As the scorching heat of August yields to the pleasant temperatures of early autumn, staying inside will be a challenge. But you need to make a decision: brave the barrage of symptom-producing pollen outdoors, or stay indoors and be comfortable.
3. Go where pollen counts are low
It might seem extreme, but if you can plan a late vacation or other trip to a place where ragweed pollen is less of an issue (we realize Alaska is probably tough to work into your travel plans), at least you’ll miss some of the allergy season while you’re gone. A cruise is ideal (no ragweed on the ocean), but a seaside locale or dryer parts of the Rocky Mountains and desert Southwest offer an improvement over the especially ragweed-heavy Midwest and East Coast.
4. Take antihistamines
While taking an antihistamine used to mean walking around like a zombie for hours, meds these days are less likely to knock you out. Medicated eye drops and nose sprays can also help relieve allergy discomfort.
5. Consider allergy shots
If you don’t respond to antihistamines, you can discuss allergy shots, a.k.a., immunotherapy, with your doctor. Immunotherapy lessens the body’s allergic reaction to specific allergens, yet requires months, or sometimes years, of regular shots.
Fight Allergies the Natural Way
A growing number of people are finding relief from herbal remedies. Try adding these natural “wonder drugs” to your list of anti-allergy weapons:
The herb Angelica has many uses, but allergy sufferers will be most interested in its ability to block the production of certain antibodies made when the body has an allergic response. The best way to take Angelica is in tea. Use about half a teaspoon per cup of hot water.
From Discovery Health: “Herbal Remedies for Allergies”
7. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine, as are flavonoids like quercitin, rutin, and hesperidin. What’s more, flavonoids enhance the power of vitamin C, so including them together is a double whammy of healthy goodness. You can take them as a supplement, or you can eat foods that are rich in both vitamin C and flavonoids, such as apples, pears, blueberries, strawberries, and broccoli.
From Associated Content: “Natural Allergy Relief: Treat Allergies Without Medicine”
Another herb long prized for its healing qualities (it was used to treat plague), butterbur extract can help reduce inflammation. It’s available in tablet form as a supplement.
From eHow: “How to Treat Allergies With Butterbur”
A powerful anti-inflammatory and astringent, the aptly monikered herb Eyebright is helpful in alleviating itchy, red, watery eyes (it also does wonders for the nose). It’s available in capsule form, or as a tincture. To make a soothing eyewash, add five drops of Eyebright tincture to a half ounce of saline solution.
From Natural Home: “Natural Remedies (and Relief) for Seasonal Allergies”