Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Allergy sufferers, beware: Ragweed season is here.

The pollen-laden period has arrived two weeks early and is expected stick around for the next few months, allergy specialists say.

“If you do have ragweed allergies, it could be really bad for you,” says Mike Tringale, spokesman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Allergy experts anticipate a “significantly bad” ragweed season, says Dr. Martha White, director of research for the Institute of Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton.

And it seems that the Washington area always gets it bad. Mr. Tringale’s foundation has consistently ranked the metropolitan region as one of the nation’s 100 worst areas for allergies.

“I’ve heard people say they’ve never had allergies until they’ve moved to Washington,” Mr. Tringale says. “That’s very common in this area.”

“Every year is bad,” he said. “The most credible source to ask [about ragweed season] is Mother Nature, but she’s not usually available to talk.”

Ragweed season typically begins at the end of summer and lasts until the first frost. The weed grows mostly in Eastern and Midwestern states, but it has become a widespread irritant across the nation.

About 30 million Americans suffer from hay fever — the allergic reaction to pollen-producing plants. Symptoms can include itchy or puffy eyes, runny and stuffy noses, sneezing and coughing. In more severe cases, people may suffer from headaches, asthma attacks and sinusitis.

“Every piece, every inch of American geography is affected by ragweed,” Mr. Tringale says. “The only place that might not be affected is the northern tip of Alaska.”

Each ragweed plant can produce nearly 1 billion grains of pollen, and its spores can spread up to 500 miles, using the wind for transportation.

“You can have pollen even if your ragweed plant is 100 miles away,” Mr. Tringale said. “Even [for] people in a city where there are no trees, grass or [other vegetation], ragweed can still cause a real problem.

“In D.C., we have a beautiful green city, and so naturally, we have tons of ragweed.”

Allergy sufferers can be harried by ragweed long after the season has ended. Pollen can linger on clothes, in homes and on pets throughout the year.

To prevent symptoms, doctors recommend keeping pollen out of homes and cars by closing the windows.

“If you keep the windows closed, your house will be like a pollen-free haven,” Dr. White says.

Showering at night to rinse off pollen and washing pets frequently also can keep hay fever at bay.

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