UC HEALTH LINE: Is it the Sniffles or Something More?
For 35.9 million people in the United States, the discomfort of sneezing, itching and watery eyes they are experiencing right now is more than just a simple cold, and it causes people to miss more than 3.8 million days of work.
Those figures, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), are the result of allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, and the main cause is ragweed.
“Millions of people are affected by ragweed, which starts blooming around mid-August through the first frost,” says Allen Seiden, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the UC Academic Health Center. “People often experience sleep problems because of seasonal allergies. They’re fatigued, and it affects their quality of life.”
Ragweed, which is most prevalent throughout the Northeast, South and Midwest, produces 1 billion pollen grains per plant each average season. Because of their light weight, these grains can travel up to 400 miles.
Uncontrolled symptoms can lead to serious medical conditions such as asthma or sinusitis, according to Dr. Seiden.
“You should consult with an allergist or otolaryngologist before your allergies get out of control and affect your day-to-day activities,” he says. “Both allergists and otolaryngologists work with you to accurately diagnose your condition and may conduct allergy skin testing to determine an appropriate management plan, which may include prescription medications and allergy shots.”
Dr. Seiden recommends taking the following steps to help reduce your exposure and to control symptoms:
Consult an allergist/otolaryngologist before your allergies get out of control. Consider getting allergy shots (your doctor will develop a formula specific to your needs), which help increase your tolerance to allergens.
The peak time for pollen dispersal is 5–10 a.m., so try to avoid the outdoors. If you do need to be outside, wear a face mask.
Avoid fields and lots where ragweed grows.
To help remove pollen from skin and hair, shower immediately after being outdoors, and especially before going to bed.
Wash clothing that has been worn outside in hot water. Do not dry it outdoors.
Wash bedding in hot water once a week and avoid hanging it outside.
Keep the windows and doors of your home and car closed. Use an air conditioner to cool the air, not window or attic fans.
Dr. Seiden is one of nearly 150 UC experts answering health-related questions from consumers on NetWellness, a collaborative, health-information Web site staffed by Ohio physicians, nurses and allied health professionals. For more information, visit www.netwellness.org.
UC Health Line contains timely health information and is distributed every Tuesday by the UC Academic Health Center Public Relations and Communications Office.