Health Library

Categories > Allergies > Seasonal allergies

Ragweed—nothing to sneeze at

Thought allergy season was long behind you? Think again. Here comes ragweed season—and another round of coughing, sneezing and itchy eyes for millions of us. Ragweed allergy, also known as hay fever, is one of the most common allergies in this country. It’s worst between the months of August and November.

What’s a ragweed allergy?

People with allergies have sensitive immune systems that react to substances called allergens. An allergist can diagnose an allergy to ragweed or one of its relatives by performing a skin sensitivity test in which he or she scratches your skin with the extract of ragweed pollen. If you’re allergic, the site will turn red, swollen and itchy. People who are allergic to ragweed breathe in the allergens from the air and end up with a runny or stuffy nose, swollen eyes, sneezing and an inflamed, itchy throat. Those with severe allergies also cope with asthma attacks, chronic sinusitis, headaches and trouble sleeping.

What can you do about it?

There’s no cure for ragweed allergy. The best way to fight it is to be prepared. Watch the news or visit to see if there are high pollen count advisories in your area. If so, take the following steps:

Clear the air. Use an air purifier with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to remove pollen from indoor air.

Take your medicine. Begin taking your prescribed allergy medicines 10 to 14 days before the start of ragweed season. To control hay fever symptoms, try using an over-the-counter antihistamine, a drug that can prevent the itching, sneezing and watery eyes. Anti-inflammatory nose drops can help with stuffiness, while eye drops can reduce itchiness and redness.

Talk with an allergist. If over-the-counter medicines don’t give you enough relief, consider immunotherapy, or allergy shots, which keeps your body from overreacting to the allergen.