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Allergy Season

Allergy Season

by Jerry Hickey, R.Ph.

Jerry Hickey, R.Ph.

Which allergy season is this?

It is now ragweed pollen allergy season and symptoms of a runny nose, nasal congestion and uncontrolled sneezing begin to plague millions of Americans. Although outdoor allergies are common in spring (tree pollen season) and summer (grass pollen season), fall symptoms seem to be the worst. Those experiencing more severe allergic reactions can also have the wheezing and shortness of breath seen in asthma.

The ragweed family includes numerous weedy plants (about thirty in all) that are part of the Ambrosia sunflower family. They produce highly allergenic pollen responsible for many cases of hay fever and asthma.

Ragweed is one of the plants that leave a green color coating on cars, sidewalks and highways. This is because each plant is reputed to be able to produce about a billion grains of pollen over a season, and the plant is anemophilous (wind-pollinated). It is highly allergenic, as the greatest pollen allergen of all pollens, and the prime cause of hay fever. The plant blooms in the northern hemisphere from about mid August until cooler weather arrives and usually produces pollen more copiously in wet seasons. Two species, Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed) and A. psilostachya (perennial ragweed) are considered among the most noxious to those prone to hay fever.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a haywire reaction to a non-threatening substance such as to peanuts, feathers, or pollen. For some misguided reason an allergy sufferer’s immune system misidentifies a food or other substance as an infectious threat and it attacks it. The cells involved with allergies line the lungs, throat and mouth, near the eyes, nasal passages, digestive tract and skin and this is why the common allergy symptoms are experienced in these tissues; itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing, coughing and itchy throat, sinusitis, asthma symptoms, skin hives and itch, and nausea.

How common are allergies?

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than fifty million Americans have an allergic disease and conditions that include asthma, frequent cough, hay fever, sinus infections, eye allergies, reactions to food, insect stings and drugs, skin allergies including eczema and hives, and immune system problems that might cause frequent infections.

In the fall if your tongue itches and feels swollen after eating fresh melon you may have oral allergy syndrome

The oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is a form of food allergy that is caused by a person having an allergy to a particular pollen. The pollen, in this case being ragweed pollen, has similar proteins (called profilins) to those found in certain fruits, in this case melons, which causes a person to be allergic to both. This syndrome occurs in a large number (up to 70 percent) of people with pollen allergy.

When a fresh melon is eaten, a person may experience itching, burning, or stinging sensations of the mouth, throat and tongue. The symptoms generally last only a few seconds or minutes, as the proteins that cause the symptoms are broken down quickly by saliva. People with ragweed allergy may also notice symptoms of OAS when eating fresh bananas and cucumbers. In rarer cases cross-reactivity can be more severe.

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