Ragweed Wages War
Sarah McQueen
smcqu643@uwsp.edu
allergies1.jpg
Allergy season has set in with a vengeance this fall, mostly because ragweed is thriving under the current weather conditions.
 
Pollen levels are high, especially pollen from ragweed. Ragweed starts blooming in mid-August and usually lasts for about six weeks or until the first frost kills off the plants. Ragweed is a wind-pollinated flowering plant and the main cause of high pollen counts in Wisconsin at this time of year. Grass and tree pollen counts have been low to nonexistent this fall, but ragweed has caused enough trouble all on its own.
 
"Our noses do not react well to having ragweed pollen in them, and our bodies react as if these were dangerous foreign invaders, ramping up our immune systems against them. In this case, our immune system’s reaction is more dangerous to us than the pollen is, per se," said Assistant Professor of Plant Ecology Tracy Feldman.
 
 
​Photo by Samantha Feld.
 
 
Wisconsin is among the top ten worst states for allergies, according to livestrong.com, although several states have had higher pollen counts this season. Texas and Oklahoma seem to have been hit the hardest with allergy-causing pollen.
 
"Why is the pollen count higher this year than other years? Not sure. Perhaps they thrive during drought conditions, or some plant species put more effort into reproduction during hard times, including drought. Or this is just a great year for ragweed for other reasons. Or the dry, windy conditions are right for carrying pollen into the air more than usual," said Feldman.
 
"Allergies seem to be setting in earlier this year in general and have been severe enough that many over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications seem unable to cope. Most years I am free of allergy symptoms by this time, but not this year," said medical assistant, Aaron Boodle.
 
Allergies caused by pollen have cold or virus-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and feeling run-down. People who are suffering from allergies will experience itching in addition to the other cold-like symptoms. When allergies are particularly bad, OTC medication can sometimes fail. In that case, many people have to see their doctors so they can be prescribed something stronger. In the worst cases, an allergy shot called immunotherapy may be administered. Immunotherapy, which works by reducing sensitivity to allergens, is used only when other medications are ineffective or intolerable.
 
Daily pollen counts can be tracked on various websites such as accuweather.com. They break down the pollen counts for ragweed, grass, mold, and trees. Pollen counts have been at moderate levels for the last few days and, due to the oncoming frost, will hopefully continue to decrease.