Ragweed: Nothing to Sneeze at!

The flowering plant known as ragweed—usually three to 12 inches tall—may look innocuous enough, but it packs a powerful punch when it comes to allergies.


Ragweed pollen, carried along by the winds of late summer, contributes to as much as 75 percent of hay fever cases. Chances are, the sneezing, runny or stuffed up nose, and itchy eyes you experience during hay fever season can be attributed to ragweed.

So, what exactly is ragweed? The plants hail from the genus Ambrosia of the Aster family and exist throughout North America. There are 17 types of ragweed found in the United States alone. They are especially prevalent throughout the Midwest and East. Ragweed is found everywhere – on roadsides and in riverbanks and fields. Rural areas are often teeming with it. Even though ragweed is easily overgrown by turf grasses and other perennial plants, if its seeds are in the soil, they will still grow in the right conditions.

A single ragweed plant can produce up to a billion pollen grains in a single season. Warmth, humidity and breezes help the release of these pollens. The grains are so light that they easily float even with a slight breeze. Ragweed pollens travel as far as 400 miles out to sea and 2 miles up in the atmosphere, but the highest pollen counts are nearest to the plants.

Ragweed Avoidance

To minimize your exposure to ragweed, try staying indoors. If you have to go outside then a simple check of the pollen count from the local news or the National Allergy Bureau can update you on the pollen count in your area and help you choose the wisest times to venture out. Equipping your home with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter attachments can help remove pollen indoors. Changing your clothes and showering after spending time outdoors will also come in handy.

Treatment for Ragweed Allergies

Avoiding ragweed pollens may help a bit, but it’s impossible to fully evade them because they are airborne. Open the door once and they’ll waft in. If your ragweed allergies are signficiant, consider treatment options. Try taking an over-the-counter antihistamine drug to help counteract the effects of ragweed allergy.

Antihistamines can treat the symptoms, but if your allergies are bad enough (lasting more than a few months of the year or cutting significantly into your quality of life), consider sublingual immunotherapy, also known as “allergy drops.” Sublingual immunotherapy is like allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) but pain-free. Allergy drops are taken under the tongue where they absorb into the bloodstream, helping you develop an immunity to ragweed and other pollens.