Tips for Coping With Autumn Asthma Triggers (Part 1): Ragweed Pollen
It's that time of year again, when people with asthma find their symptoms being triggered by pollens and molds that are present in late summer and early autumn. Ragweed and other weed pollens and/or mold spores found in soil when harvesting the gardens or in falling leaves can cause your asthma symptoms to flare.
I am fortunate to only have mild asthma, but I do have severe nasal allergies. So, when the ragweed starts pumping out billions of pollen grains in late August and early September, I know to expect an increase in my wheezing, sneezing, congestion and other symptoms. It's time to really focus on keeping my allergies and my asthma under control.
About Ragweed Allergy & Asthma
Ragweed is a plant that is found just about everywhere in the United States. There are about 17 different species of ragweed and all of them can trigger a severe allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to the pollen. These weeds, which can vary greatly in height are found along the edges of fields and roads and near riverbanks.
Ragweed flowers in late summer as nighttime temperatures start to decrease and the nights are longer. A single ragweed plants can produce up to 1 billion grains of pollen. Peak levels usually occur in mid-September, although this can vary depending on your climate.
Not everyone who is exposed to ragweed pollen will have a reaction, but when you are sensitive, your immune system overreacts and can trigger allergy symptoms, as well as worsen asthma symptoms such as:
- Chronic cough
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
How do you know if a ragweed allergy might trigger your asthma symptoms? Well, if you notice your allergy or asthma symptoms getting more frequent or severe in late summer, there's a good chance you are sensitive to ragweed. This is especially true if you are also allergic to tree or grass pollens.
How to Minimize the Impact of Ragweed on Your Asthma
Of course, the best way to manage a ragweed allergy so that it does not have a negative impact on your asthma control is to avoid contact with ragweed pollen. However, this is not easy to do, but here are some actions you can take that will help:
- Stay indoors during peak pollen level hours. Peak levels tend to occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. So, if you must be outdoors, shoot for early mornings and/or evenings. Pollen levels will also be lower on cool, rainy days that on hot, breezy days.
- When indoors, use air conditioning. If you are in your house or your car with the windows wide open, pollen can easily travel through screens or open windows/doors. Air conditioning in buildings and in cars will provide some protection. Be sure to use the recirculate setting, if available.
- Keep track of your local pollen count. There are many ways to check and see what the pollen count is in your area. Websites such as The National Allergy Bureau, pollen.com or weather.com can be helpful. Your local news media stations and websites may also post this information. When levels are high, stay indoors as much as you can!
- Don't bring pollen into your home. If you must be outdoors, shed your outer layer of clothing when you return indoors and wash it. You may also want to shower right away, or at least wash your hands. Never hang clothing outside to dry; use a dryer instead.
- Use medication to prevent or control symptoms. For allergies, an antihistamine or nasal steroid is often effective, especially if you start taking it before symptoms become severe. Be sure to use your controller asthma medication each day as prescribed and have your rescue inhaler/quick relief asthma medication on hand should symptoms flare.
For people sensitive to ragweed, as summer turns into fall, keeping asthma symptoms under control can be a challenge. But with a little care and a focus on being proactive, it can be done. Ragweed isn't the only challenge during this time, however. Keep reading Part 2 of Tips for Coping With Autumn Asthma Triggers for information on dealing with mold allergy's impact on asthma.
How does your asthma change with the seasons?