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‘Tis the season for ragweed

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:41 / Updated on July 23, 2019 at 18:34

Many Quebecers are currently battling a formidable enemy called Ambrosia. Better known as ragweed, this annual plant triggers allergic reactions that can cause considerable discomfort. From mid-July to the end of September, nearly one in ten Quebecers must deal on a daily basis with sneezing, nasal congestion, clear and plentiful nasal discharge, tearing, and itchy, red eyes. The number of persons affected seems to grow with each passing year.

Ragweed seems to grow well in places where there is little vegetation and where there is a lot of treading. We rarely encounter it in well-maintained residential lots. Many municipalities are increasing their efforts to mow the grass bordering cycling paths, roads, parks and play areas. The media is also helping inform the public on the importance of removing these plants from residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural lots. No need for herbicides to get rid of ragweed – simple preventative measures are just as effective at stopping it from growing or flowering.

It is the plant’s pollen that causes allergic reactions. Pollen grains are very small and their chemical properties are such that very few grains are required to trigger symptoms. The pollen spreads through the air like fine dust. Ragweed allergies alone don’t put a person’s life in danger. However, it is a proven fact that exposure to air-borne allergens can bring about asthma attacks in persons who are prone to them. In fact, many asthmatics also suffer from allergic rhinitis, which is a symptom of allergies. Conversely, not everyone who has allergies also suffers from asthma.

Ragweed pollen is not the only culprit in allergic rhinitis. There are three separate allergy periods in Quebec. Trees and shrubs release pollen in the spring, whereas herbaceous plants (grasses) do so in the summer. Ragweed releases its pollen from the end of summer to mid-fall. Some people get no respite and are allergic to all three types of pollen.

Few people know that some foods (e.g. melons, bananas, cucumbers) and plants (e.g. camomile) contain proteins that are similar or identical to those in ragweed pollen. People who are allergic to ragweed and who eat these foods raw can experience a prickling sensation on their lips or in their mouth or throat. The phenomenon, which is called crossallergy, occurs when a person who normally reacts to a given allergen comes into contact with a substance similar to it. The similarity between the proteins appears to trigger the allergy.

For allergy sufferers, the best way to prevent an attack – but not necessarily the easiest – is to avoid coming into contact with the pollen. It is recommended to stay clear of ragweed-infested areas, restrict outdoor activities in hot, dry and windy weather, avoid mowing the lawn yourself and hanging clothes to dry outside during the pollen shedding season, keep windows closed and/or use an air conditioner, and avoid tobacco smoke since it can intensify symptoms. Municipal and citizen initiatives to eradicate these plants are of course welcome.

Drugstores offer various medications to relieve allergy symptoms. When faced with such a wide selection to choose from, your pharmacist’s advice can help you make the right choice!

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