I was born with puffy eyes, it seems. In general, I am indeed always a little puffy around the orbs but when the fall season comes around and ragweed makes its undeniable appearance, I puff up tenfold.
I recall as a child looking forward to attending the State Fair of Texas every year in October. It was a wonderful time of year – Dallas students received a full day off school and free passes to the fairground, along with a round trip bus ticket. I would start “Fair Day” excited about and anticipating all the amusement rides and exotic food I’d experience. However, by mid-morning I’d be swelled up to the point passersby would often ask me if I was lost and if not, then why was I crying? As vain as I admit I was, I learned in my high school years that if I was going to venture out to the fair or any activity outdoors during the fall, I may as well leave the mascara off and wear large sunglasses to hide my red, weepy eyes! Those were the days when antihistamines just weren’t all that commonly used – or at least they weren’t common within my socioeconomic circle. Nowadays I can venture outside in the fall as long as I am fully loaded with a couple of different acting antihistamines and keep to a few practices (I’ll share these with you in the end.)
As much as I dislike the effects of ragweed, the subject IS timely so I thought I’d share bits of information I have learned about this plant firsthand through my trials navigating the outdoors during the months of August through November – or sometimes – through December. Disclaimer: Keep in mind I am not a doctor, nurse or any other type of health care professional. The information contained here, again, is gleaned through my experience as a 4++++ member on the allergy testing scale for all types of ragweed. –Yes, unfortunately there is more than one culprit of this fall weed!
There are actually 17 species of ragweed in the United States. A species or two or three can be found in essentially any part of the country. It is thought ragweed has become more prevalent these days due to land development and ragweed’s ability to very easily germinate and grow in disturbed soils of all types. The ragweed plant produces many tiny flowers that in turn, produce a multitude of pollen each. As ragweed blooms and the cool, dry winds of fall sweep across the US, billons of pollen grains are widely dispersed. I read where ragweed pollen can be found 400 miles off the US coastline and 2 miles high in the atmosphere.
What does this mean to those of us that suffer from seasonal hay fever? It means we simply can’t escape contact with ragweed pollen and instead of attempting to do so, we should strive to limit exposure and reduce symptoms.
Before I share what has worked for me regarding my allergies, I wish to explain a few more things about the ragweed plant itself:
First of all, it is not the pretty, golden-yellow weed we see waving along the country roads in the fall. That is goldenrod (see below). While a person can certainly be allergic to goldenrod, it is usually not the offending plant of fall – it just so happens to bloom at the same time and gets a bum rap!
Ragweed is actually not very pretty. Oddly, its scientific name, Ambrosia, translated from Greek, means “food of the gods”. Researching the origins of such an ironic name, I’ve discovered the jury is still out on why this scientific name was given to such a tormenting plant. It is thought the name and its ancient meaning may have been designated to the plant to be purposely sarcastic. Then again, some feel it was meant to denote that only mythological gods (non-humans) could tolerate eating such a plant. Then again, another person notes it was named after a botanist with the last name Ambrose (of whom I could not locate a definite citation, by the way.)
For all of the havoc it causes, ragweed does seem to have a purpose – for every living thing has a purpose on earth, correct? Among the few benefits I discovered, the most interesting one to me is that ragweed is thought to rid the soil of lead. Having grown up in one of the most heavily lead contaminated areas of Dallas (we lived one neighborhood over from a lead smelter) I find this trait fascinating. I also understand ragweed is the natural field crop preference of sheep. Also, some non-allergic gardeners plant ragweed as a companion plant to peppers to lure pests to the weed instead of the food crop. And lastly, if you search the Internet for the benefits of ragweed, you will find ragweed tincture is thought to ease numerous ailments. However, even these websites warn of severe allergic reactions and some mention ragweed leaves are oftentimes confused with those of poisonous plants – thus I hesitate to list any herbal or medicinal uses here!
So – let me conclude by providing you a few simple points on how I survive, and sometimes thrive, during ragweed season. Of course, while a highly allergic person should limit outdoor activities as much as possible, I would not recommend anyone becoming a hermit during the glorious days of fall! Instead, a few of the tips below should help you continue your usual activities, yet make your home a safe refuge when you need to reduce exposure.
- *Check with your doctor first. If all is fine re drug interactions, etc., begin taking an OTC antihistamine at least two weeks prior to the onset of ragweed season – usually late July in most areas of the US.
- Take showers/baths in the evening to wash away pollen that may have collected in your hair, on your skin, etc. during the day and to avoid having it on your bed linens.
- If you have indoor/outdoor pets, bathe them often to rid their coats of pollen grains.
- As beautiful as it is during the fall season, do not be tempted to raise the windows in your home. Use your air conditioner as needed. Also, use the A/C in your car and make sure it is set to recirculate versus pulling air from outside.
- Invest in an air purifier/filtering system (HEPA) for your bedroom and/or office. Room-size devices are relatively inexpensive. Be sure to change the filters often.
- Change the general air filters in your home often as well during ragweed season.
- Vacuum and dust your home thoroughly at least once per week. It is best to have a non-allergic person do these tasks. If possible, hire someone to do this for you during the fall. (Note: I do this myself while wearing a surgical face mask.)
- Speaking of face masks, if you must or prefer to do your own yard work during the fall, be sure to utilize a high quality one while performing the chores. However, again, if you can afford it, hire this task out from August – December.
- If tolerable and again, recommended by your physician, use a nasal saline irrigation rinse in the evening to rid your sinuses of the collected pollen. I personally use distilled water (versus tap water) and perform this task while in the shower.
- Lastly, there is a syndrome recently discovered, called oral allergy syndrome or cross-reactivity, whereby people with hay fever allergies (including grasses and trees) can have a greater allergic reaction when coming in contact with certain other plants and foods during their respective active hay fever season. For example, those of us allergic to ragweed are best to avoid the following plants/foods during the fall months, if possible: bananas, cucumbers, cantaloupe, zucchini, melons, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile. Note: In my younger years I found out the hard way the expensive eye creams that are supposed to de-puff your under eye area usually have either or both chamomile and cucumber extract in their ingredients. These ingredients work well on non-allergic women, but on me, instead of producing a more restful look to my appearance, the products ended up making me look ten times worse!
Well, here’s to enjoying the beautiful and crisp weather of autumn, with or without allergies!
Until next time,
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