If you have a ragweed pollen allergy, then September throughout November is not a pleasant time for you. Ragweed season starts late August to early September and can last all of November in the Northern hemisphere as the growth of the plant is slowed down only by frost. Because the pollen particles are particularly small, seasonal winds will easily carry them over great distances making ragweed allergy a matter of great public concern.
A highly allergenic plant, ragweed is the number one cause of seasonal fall allergies, affecting millions and millions of people every year. And the symptoms of ragweed allergy are so diverse, varying in form and intensity to the point they can easily be mistaken for seasonal respiratory infections, be it the common cold, the flu or even COVID, the novel Coronavirus infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
What is ragweed allergy?
A bit of context regarding ragweed allergy. Ragweed allergy is a type of pollen allergy, that is, the allergic reaction occurs in response to the pollen of ragweed plants. It’s no different from seasonal spring allergies which are also pollen allergies, except for the fact that ragweed is in season in fall. Ragweed is related to daisies, chamomile, calendula, chicories, lettuce, artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke and sunflowers, all common allergens.
There are many species of ragweed which can make identification of the plant difficult, unless a botanist or a self-thought plant enthusiast. That means that, if you live on a larger property, it’s possible to have multiple ragweed plants growing and releasing pollen right under your nose.
Ragweeds are plants occurring naturally in the wild in virtually all temperate regions of the world, but because they are invasive and do not carry any significant commercial value, they are dubbed ‘weeds’. In addition to their pollen being highly allergenic, it is also smaller in size which allows seasonal winds to carry it over great distances. This is both responsible for the high worldwide number of cases of ragweed allergy, and allows the plant to establish onto new territories.
What exactly does ragweed pollen allergy look like?
What are the symptoms of ragweed pollen allergy? How can you tell if you have a ragweed allergy vs a seasonal respiratory infection such as the common cold, the flu, sinusitis or the novel Coronavirus infection? Can you even tell the difference between symptoms of ragweed pollen allergy and symptoms of a respiratory infection? Read on to learn what are the signs and symptoms of ragweed allergy and get a good idea of what the seasonal pollen allergy can look like!
You have a runny or blocked nose, or both
If your nose is runny or congested, and becomes so as soon as you go outside, then you might have allergies. A runny nose or a blocked nose (nasal congestion) is a typical sign of pollen allergies such as ragweed. It can be either one or the other, or a runny nose alternating with congestion. The onset is sudden and unexpected, apparently without a cause, but the symptoms are not continual, but rather come in bouts over the course of a day depending on your exposure to ragweed pollen.
You can usually tell it’s allergies if you don’t have a fever at all, and if the congestion is relieved by going inside, essentially putting a stop to the exposure to the allergens causing the symptoms, taking a shower to wash the allergens from your face and hair or simply washing your face with lots of water to remove allergens from the face and even nose.
You produce lots of excess mucus
Excessive amounts of mucus from the nose or throat are indicative of allergies such as pollen allergies. And this time of the year, ragweed allergy is the main culprit. The mucus will have either a runny or thick consistency, and be one of several colors: clear, clear with gray streaks (likely from inhaled dust), or a clean whitish color.
If it’s ragweed allergy, mucus production will debut suddenly, usually as you go outside or open a window. But if the mucus is yellow, green or other mucus colors, do consider the possibility of an infection and make an appointment with your doctor. As you are waiting to see a doctor, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
There’s lots of postnasal drip
During ragweed season you may start to experience increased mucus production in your nose which then drips down the back of your throat. You may either swallow it or spit it out or gag on it because it’s just so much mucus. You may also experience congestion in your sinuses and have a runny or blocked nose, or both.
If it’s allergies, the mucus should look clear or be a clean whitish color, either thin (runny) or thicker (but healthy looking). Postnasal drip is one of the most common symptoms of pollen allergies and I myself have it right now as I’m dealing with my ragweed allergy.
If you sense you are producing lots of mucus all of the sudden as soon as you go outside, then it’s likely ragweed allergy. But do look out for changes in your symptoms such as changes in mucus color (yellow or green), throat soreness that gets progressively worse, a cough or (and this is important) a fever.
You have sneezing fits
Not everyone with allergies has them, and they’re not continual as in they occur during the duration of entire ragweed season, but if you experience occasional sneezing fits this September (and in October and November too), then you may want to consider ragweed allergy as a cause (or another plant pollen allergy).
The sneezing fits come about suddenly, with no warning whatsoever and can be made up of two or three and up to fifteen or twenty sneezes one after the other. A reliable signs it’s allergies is when you start to sneeze as you look at a source of light, whether sunlight outdoors or a light source inside such as a light bulb. The sneezing is meant to clear out allergens from the nose and is a protective mechanism.
You can also tell it’s allergies if you start to sneeze very early in the morning when you wake up (sometimes you wake up sneezing). Opening the bedroom window for some fresh air can let the allergens in and trigger the sneezing bout.
For the most part, you won’t sneeze every single day, continuously throughout the day if it’s allergies, but it’s possible to experience more frequent sneezing during some days when pollen counts are high, for example. Do look out for other symptoms too: if it’s a runny nose with clear mucus that stays that way, or a blocked nose, or itching of the eyes, ears or skin, it points towards a ragweed allergy. But running a fever and changes in mucus color except clear and white indicate an infection.
Your eyes become itchy and watery all of a sudden
A very common symptom of allergic rhinitis is itchy, watery eyes. If your eyes get watery and/or itch, especially soon after you go outside or have contact with the outdoors via an open window, a pet etc., then you may very well be allergic to ragweed. No more exposure to the allergen and washing your face with lots of water will help stop the symptoms almost instantly.
There’s redness and swelling of the eyelids and undereye area
Allergic conjunctivitis is a relatively common symptom of pollen allergies such as ragweed, although not everyone with allergies to pollen will experience it. It consists of redness and swelling of the eyelids and/or undereye area (looks like puffiness) and usually also itchiness and teariness. If you also have a runny or blocked nose, then it’s vert likely it’s allergies.
You experience red, itchy, burning ears
A somewhat less common symptom of ragweed allergy, and other pollen allergies for that matter, is red, itchy, burning ears. Upon exposure to ragweed pollen by going outside, especially in non-urban areas, the ears may start to itch either on the outside or on the inside.
Not just this, but they may get red and feel warm, sometimes even burn. Either the entire outer ear is affected, or just the top part (auricle) or just the bottom part (ear lobes). The redness and the feeling of warmth that can be experienced as ‘burning ears’ are due to vasodilation. Washing your ears with some water and soap, sometimes also your hair as pollen likes to stick to hair, can help stop the symptoms immediately.
You have insomnia all of a sudden (and it’s irritating you)
Insomnia is a very common symptom that can be attributed to everything from stress to hormonal changes to mental health problems. But if you also have a runny nose alternating with congestion and can’t go outside without sneezing or your eyes getting red and watery, then you may want to consider ragweed allergy. The insomnia does become tiresome after a while and you may get irritated and act accordingly.
Try to sleep with your windows closed, take a shower and wash your hair before bed and avoid sitting in your bed with your outside clothes to stop insomnia caused by allergies. Change sheets more often (no special treatment needed except basic washing) and, if you have pets that spend time outdoors, limit their access to your bedroom.
You feel drowsy or sleepy all of the time and somewhat lethargic
If you have a ragweed allergy and are not experiencing insomnia, you may be experiencing excessive sleepiness. It’s common to be feeling unusually sleepy or drowsy when you have pollen allergies and this time of the year it might just be because it’s ragweed season.
You feel tired all of the time
Ragweed and all pollen allergies can make you feel tired all the time. The cause for this is the load on your entire system which is processing the exposure to allergens (the ragweed pollen particles) and going into defense mode because your immune system sees them as sources of disease.
Try and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of still water, flavored water, herbal teas or hydrating sports drinks and manage your exposure to pollen by changing clothes often, washing your face and hair at the end of the day.
Your throat is a bit sore and you may experience hoarseness
A sore throat and soreness are symptoms that walk the fine line between pollen allergies and a respiratory infection. This time of the year is full-on ragweed season so it’s possible to experience throat tingling, minor soreness and some hoarseness if you’re allergic to ragweed. But it’s also the start of respiratory infections season so watch out for symptoms such as a fever and throat soreness that gets progressively worse or the development of a cough that progresses (gets worse, becomes productive).
Your skin may feel itchy
If you come into direct contact with the pollen of the ragweed plant, your skin may feel itchy. If you know you’ve been outdoors and there’s ragweed growing in your area, even if it’s far away from you, you also have a runny nose or a blocked nose, red, itchy and watery eyes or ears, know that it all points to a ragweed allergy, or another plant allergy.
You may have an asthma attack or experience laryngospasms
Ragweed allergy, and all pollen allergies really, can progress and become severe, to the point of life-threatening symptoms. You likely have a ragweed allergy if, upon some form of exposure to the ragweed plant (e.g. direct contact with the plant such as touching, breathing in pollen particles from being outside, even if not in the vicinity of the plant), you experience a tingling sensation in the throat that may provoke light, dry coughing, difficulty breathing followed by a laryngospasm or an asthma attack.
At this point it is important to seek medical help immediately in case an anaphylactic shock should set in. If you have asthma, pollen allergies that can become severe (e.g. progress to anaphylaxis), make sure you always have your emergency medication with you at all times and make your condition known to those around you so they may assist you should the need arise (anaphylactic shock can occur within 2 minutes of exposure to an allergen).
You may lose your smell
In pollen allergies such as ragweed you may lose your sense of smell due to a few reasons:
- Your nose is simply blocked as in odors cannot get through.
- The swelling at the level of the of the nasal passages brought on by inhaled pollen limits your ability to smell. This is due to immune system involvement.
The loss of smell has been popularized as a COVID symptom – it’s one of the early symptoms of COVID, but also one of the main neurological symptoms of COVID and also unusual symptoms of COVID. However, it’s actually extremely common in seasonal allergies such ragweed allergy, and also occurs with the common cold, the flu, sinusitis, exposure to irritants, nose fungal infections, neurological conditions etc.
Some people may lose their sense of smell to a certain degree or even completely as in they can’t smell anything anymore unless it’s maybe an extremely offensive smell that is right under their nose. Some people with allergies experience loss of smell for the entire duration of the allergy season, or in bouts as in for a few hours or days, with repeated episodes throughout the length of the allergy season.
If loss of smell, whether partial or complete, is the only symptom you’re experiencing, it will be hard to just tell if you have ragweed allergy, or another pollen allergy, or COVID-19. But usually allergies cause more than just loss of smell so that should help you determine what course of action to take.
You may have an altered taste perception
Again, a COVID symptom and a ragweed allergy symptom at the same time. Usually, if you know you have an allergy to ragweed pollen, it’s very likely that that’s the cause behind your loss of taste this time of the year. Especially if you also have a runny nose, nasal congestion or red, watery, itchy eyes which are very telling symptoms of pollen allergies.
For the most part you will be able to taste something, although pollen allergies can completely impact taste perception in those with severe forms. But even if it’s not ragweed allergy, but the novel Coronavirus infection, if loss of smell is the only symptom you’re experiencing, then it’s a relief as it means you’re having a light form of the disease.
Whether it’s allergies or the novel respiratory infection, the common cold or flu, do wear a mask to not potentially sneeze in people’s face, keep a distance from others, limit social contact as much as possible (e.g. work from home if possible, get medical leave, get tested for COVID) and just take good care of yourself and those around you.
You may have a very light and occasional dry cough
Coughing from seasonal allergies such as ragweed should be occasional and not get progressively worse – just a light cough here and there, especially when you are outdoors where the allergens are or have just been outside. A sudden runny nose, production of excess mucus that is clear or white, nasal congestion, watery eyes are accompanying symptoms that also indicate a ragweed allergy.
How to tell if it’s a cough from ragweed or COVID cough?
If it stays the same, very light and occasional, and only appears in response to being outdoors, it’s likely ragweed allergies. If the mucus stays clear, streaked lightly with gray, or white, it’s ragweed allergy. If you experience a laryngospasm or asthma episode right after, that also usually indicates pollen allergies. If it’s brought on by a tingling sensation in the throat, whether because of inhaling pollen or due to thick mucus dripping down on the back of the throat triggering your cough reflex, it’s also ragweed allergy.
If the cough does get progressively worse, becomes productive, you run a fever, experience chills and body aches, lack of appetite, the phlegm you are expectorating changes color or you experience chest tightness or difficulty breathing, then see a doctor because these are symptoms of a respiratory infection, be it the common cold, the flu or COVID. Discover more respiratory symptoms of COVID and how to tell if it’s a COVID cough or allergies cough.
Light headaches, malaise, a bit of lightheadedness
It’s possible to experience light headaches, minor or moderate malaise and a bit of lightheadedness if you have pollen allergies such as ragweed. While the symptoms may seem atypical, they should be accompanied by more typical symptoms such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, or both, itchy and watery eyes, red, itchy, burning ears and more.
- Know your body. Often times you are the best equipped to tell what’s going on with your body. You know how it looks like for you when you are sick with a respiratory infection and what it looks like when you are not. Do trust your instinct.
- Watch out for the progression of the symptoms. Even if it looks like ragweed allergy, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things to see how they progress. If something changes, you’ll be ready to tackle it.
- Keep an open mind. Even if you’re sure it’s a ragweed allergy, that doesn’t mean it’s not something else too. More things than one can coexist so keep an open mind and reach out if you suspect you have a respiratory infection that requires medical attention on top of your usually allergies.