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ragweed


Posted by kevvyg on Monday, October 21, 2013
Sneezy Weeds - Lambs QuartersYou're sneezing, congested and watery eyed, battling nature's small wonders. So today we're going to shine a spotlight on these little airborne particulates that are giving you such a hard time, and this week we'll start with pollen.

Since the biodiversity of plants is immense, so is the variety of pollen types. For those dealing with allergies, the most troublesome pollen comes from trees and wind pollinating plants such as grasses and those of the Aster (daisy) family.

Tree Pollen
Trees can produce massive amounts of pollen and start pollen production as early as January through as late as June. This makes Spring and Fall the most irritating seasons for allergies. Size of pollen grains vary in size, but are light enough to allow the wind to carry them for miles. Amongst the trees mentioned below, their pollen sizes range from 18-38 micrometers (microns). Pecans have the largest pollen of 77 microns! Stuffy nose, watery eyed, and congested individuals can thank the following trees for their irritating pollens:
  • Elm
  • Walnut
  • Pecan
  • Hickory
  • Sycamore
It's also interesting to note that pollen is released from the male structure of the plant (the anther). Some tree species have seperate sexes, instead of having both male and female reproductive parts. So the female versions of lets say, maples, do not release pollen. Here is a list of male trees that contribute to allergy season:
  • Ash
  • Box elder
  • Cottonwood
  • Maple (silver and red)
  • Poplar
  • Willow
PigweedRagweed Pollen
Ragweeds are from the Aster family, and often inhabit dry sunny fields, or interrupted areas such as roadsides or vacant lots. There are 17 species nationally with a few dozen found worldwide. Ragweed pollen season runs in the autumn, with September traditionally being the peak month for high levels of ragweed pollen. Aside from being very light and easily carried by the wind, another thing that makes ragweed so potent is that though it has a short season, it makes the most of its time. Single plants can produce over a billion grains of pollen in a single season. Ragweed pollen grains range from 16-27 microns. Though ragweed is what most people are familiar with, here are some other weeds to beware of:
  • Curly Dock
  • Lambs Quarters
  • Pigweed
  • Plantain
  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Sagebrush
Grass Pollen
There are approximately 1,200 species of grass in North America, but of that number, there are only a few that cause allergic reactions. Grass is extremely wind dependent for seed and pollen dispersal though the pollen sizes can be as large as 35 microns. So, with their large pollen size they are less likley to irrittate lower airways, thus not quite as irritating as ragweed or tree pollen. Some of the most common grass pollens are:
  • Bermuda
  • Kentucky
  • Johnson
  • Orchard
  • Sweet Vernal
  • Timothy
Although pollen is everywhere (even at the North Pole!), there are ways to deal with it. Between 5-10 am., it's a veritable pollen party. So stay indoors until after 10, and you'll be less congested and red eyed. Drying clothes outside exposes clothes to pollen, which can then be transported inside. Depending on your specific allergies, you may want to limit how often you do this, depending on the time of year. Wearing a mask while cutting the grass, doing yard work, or working in the hayfield will help make these chores less miserable. Keeping the grass shorter, instead of allowing to grow tall and come to seed, can also help alleviate allergies.

Author: R. Power

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, September 23, 2013
With a noticeable chill in the air, fall is upon us, and soon many of us will be buried under that annual ritual called "falling leaves".  This time of year can be tricky for people with specific allergies, like ragweed and mold spores, as well as cold weather induced asthma.  Avoiding the sneezing, congestion, coughing and wheezing doesn't have to be difficult. Sometimes, something as simple as using a respirator or allergy mask can make all the difference.  So how can these help reduce symptoms while outside the home? By understanding your specific allergen you can more easily understand how something like an allergy mask can help.

Starting and late summer and continuing well into autumn, ragweed can be one of the most ubiquitous and far reaching allergens of any season.  Extremely small and lightweight, ragweed pollen can literally travel hundreds of miles.  So while ragweed may not be a common to your area, winds can literally carry it from state to state.  In addition to the ability to travel long distances without the aid of a Greyhound or proper bus fare, ragweed pollen delivers punches in bunches.  Pardon the old boxing cliche, but what I mean is that a ragweed plant can produce up to a billion grains of pollen during a season.  Ragweed is also a very hardy plant, difficult to get rid of in areas where it is not naturally occurring.  Lastly, ragweed is actually a generic terms that covers over 41 species of plants worldwide.  Coupled with the highly allergic nature of the pollen, these things can make this time of year miserable for a lot of people.

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As the mercury drops, so do the leaves.  If they sit too long or you live near a wooded area, dead leaves can quickly accumulate and begin to mold.  As active mold grows in decaying leaf piles, it produces spores and can begin churning out mycotoxins.  The spores cause varying reactions in different people, but mycotoxins can affect anyone, allergies, asthma or not. On top of all of these are people burning leaves. This is more common in rural areas but leaf smoke can be a powerful irritant.

Brisk mornings or cool evenings can trigger asthma attacks for many.  Walking the dog in the morning or that early evening jog can be particularly troublesome.  As you exercise or your respiration rate increases with activity, your mouth and nose can have problems keeping up with warming the air you are breathing.

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All of these things can be reduced or minimized with the use of a mask or respirator.  There are a variety of styles available, but here's a quick rundown of how they can help.  Masks can provide varying degrees of filtration that can top out with true HEPA certified filters that capture 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns and larger (which covers your mold spores, pollen and most other irritating or reaction causing particles).  Other the other end of the spectrum are N95 masks which trap 95% of particles of the same size range.  Other masks may filter less than 95%, but N95 has become the standard for masks since the CDC has recommended this minimum as effective to help stop the spread of SARS, Avian flu, H1N1 and other strains of influenza.  In terms of filter ragweed or mold spores, each NIOSH type will offer varying degrees of efficiency.

This doesn't mean you should simple go for a HEPA masks.  There are other things to consider like the filter type you want or whether activated carbon/charcoal in the filter to adsorb odors, chemicals or smoke, in addition to the particle filtration, is wanted.  You may also want a mask that is warmer than others, particularly if you have cold air induced asthma.  This might include a fleece mask or simply a mask that holds heat around the face better.  Regardless of what your specific needs are, there are a variety of masks to choose from.  And most importantly, all can be effective in helping you reduce allergic reactions or asthma attacks while limiting exposure to the things that cause you the most trouble.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by KevvyG on Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Ragweed is Here!  Are you Ready?Ok, so perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic when I wrote that title, but to be honest, the theme from Jaws was playing in my head. Still, the summer months are quickly winding down, and despite Mother Nature's insistence on strange summer weather, fall is rapidly approaching. Not that anyone particularly needs a weather recap, but for much of the country east of the Mississippi, heavy rains have dampened summer temps. This matters some, but the predicted trends for the fall are more important in terms of ragweed season. To try to determine how this year's season will be, I've looked at a couple different sources - NOAA's National Weather Service, The Weather Channel, and the Old Farmer's Almanac. That's right folks. I'm moonlighting as a weather prediction expert and as such, an allergen prediction expert!

Starting in the Northeast - Apparently the deluge is over? At least that's the thought. The forecast of a cooler, dry fall for the central and western portions means relatively normal conditions for ragweed. Rain can be a double edged sword when it comes to pollen. It can increase overall pollen production, while a relative lack of it can mean the pollen that is produced will likely be dispersed over a wider area. As one of the lightest pollens, ragweed can literally travel for hundreds of miles before settling. With temperatures possibly being cooler, despite potential above average rain around the upper Mississippi, the overall effect may likely even out some. As a note though, the far Northeast does appear to be slightly warmer than average, so expect pollen counts in the New England states to buck the trend of the larger region.

Speaking of Rain - The Southeast looks like a coin toss. And as mentioned above, rain can tamp down the dispersal of pollen but may mean greater production of this potent allergen. As showers are typically very hit or miss in the South and Southeast, we could experience bouts of high pollen that will hopefully be cleaned out by nature's natural cleanser, rain. The prediction of average or cooler than average temps should keep the season in line with those in the past.

While out West - Conditions could be wetter, but according to NOAA, only really in the Dakotas region. For much of the West, expect slightly warmer than average temperatures. This can spell trouble in terms of ragweed as warmer, dry conditions often lead to widespread pollen dispersal. On another note, this dryer, warmer than normal forecast offers no relief for the current problem - wildfires and smoke.

To recap, stock up on allergy masks and furnace filters west of the Mississippi, and for the rest of us, stay calm and carry on.

Regardless of where you are, there are a few things you can do to help with ragweed season. Ragweed can be a particularly potent allergen and is light enough to be widely dispersed. With over two dozen species and the ability for a single plant to produce over a million grains of pollen in a single season, it is a far reaching allergen. So to help,
  • Monitor the Count - Pollen counts have become a staple of most local forecasts. Keep an eye on this, and outdoor activities that can be rescheduled, should be when the pollen count is particularly high. Warmer, windy days can be some of the worst, so look for rain. The day after rains typically have some of the lowest pollen counts of the season.

  • Allergy Masks Don't Have to be DrabMasks - A good N95 mask or respirator is handy to have around nearly anytime of the year but particularly during peak allergen seasons. NIOSH rated masks and respirators can filter out allergens like pollen, mold spores and dander. HEPA rated masks (N100) do the best job at this, and there is a wide variety to choose from which gives you many options of price, style and size. Disposable N95 masks are great for doing a little yard work or gardening, while a more stylish mask with a replaceable filters might be a better fit everyday use. Regardless of what you choose, any will help block ragweed pollens.

  • Filters - If you use an air purifier, fall is a good time to check the filters. Many of the more expensive brands have long filter life and may not need to be changed. Back-blowing can help remove large particles, especially from pre-filters, and extend the life of filters. This simply involves using low pressure compressed air and blowing air back through the filter in the opposite direction of normal airflow. For less expensive air purifiers that often require more frequent filter changes, find your brand and replace the HEPA or particle filter as necessary.

  • Ragweed 2013 - Forecast
  • Furnace Filters - These are likely due for a change. During the summer months, we often get lax about things like this, particularly with more people spending time outdoors. Regular replacement can keep your HVAC running in tip-top shape while also filtering out allergens like mold spores and ragweed pollen. Vent filters are also a good idea, particularly for areas where air conditioning isn't used as much. Fall can mean the first use of the furnace and the dust in the ducts that has been collecting all summer, can be trapped by vent filters.

  • Landscaping - Keeping brush and dead vegetation clear can help. In areas prone to weeds, try a heavy coat of mulch or even that fabric-style landscaping cover can keep weeds at bay in flower beds, gardens and other areas. By keeping dead or rotting vegetation clear, you can reduce another common fall allergen - mold spores.

  • Keep Up With Your Medication - Maintenance medication for asthma (preventatives), should not be skipped during times when seasonal allergies are peaking. When symptoms do flare up, antihistamines can help. These over the counter medications can reduce the histamines that cause the allergic symptoms in most people, and in more severe situations, prescription medications can offer a more potent form of relief.

  • Rinse - Of course your dentist will recommend that you rinse regularly, but I'm talking about a sinus rinse! Using a saline solution can rinse away allergens and help to reduce symptoms. Rinsing can also moisturize and soothe inflamed sinuses. Though a bit odd, sinus irrigation is a non-pharmaceutical way to bring about relief for many.
Ultimately, who knows? Though my B.A. in history may likely make me as qualified as any "meteorologist" you see on TV, I wouldn't bet the farm on my weather prediction abilities. And speaking of the farm, I mentioned at the onset that I also referred to the Old Farmer's Almanac. I fully intended to, until I saw the predictions for our current summer. Considering most of the eastern half of the country was a complete miss, I stuck with NOAA and The Weather Channel. I know my family has often relied on the Almanac, but this year - bust (sorry Dad). Check out the lower image on this page.

To view NOAA's temperature and precipitation forecast or the Weather Channel's fall temperature outlook.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, September 24, 2012
No, it's not your imagination. This fall's allergy season has been a miserable one. Across the nation, allergists and physicians are seeing more people in their offices, many of whom have never suffered from fall allergies before. With more people across all ages suffering, many people are asking, why?

Ragweed - King of Fall AllergensFall allergy season revolves around two main types of allergens - ragweed pollen and mold spores. While cedar/juniper pollen and other fall pollinators contribute, the bulk of late season allergy sufferers are effected by ragweed and mold.

Of these two, ragweed is the fall King of Allergens. Each plant can produce billions of pollen granules which are light enough to easily be carried by a stiff breeze. This year, the drought gripping the majority of the US has exacerbated ragweed pollen counts. Drier than normal conditions have allowed for pollen to spread far and wide.

Wildfires Making Allergies Far WorseThroughout the west, wildfires continue to dump tons of smoke and ash into the air. Those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, as well as allergy and asthma sufferers, can be particularly vulnerable to these types of pollutants. And while the physical damage that these fires can cause is relatively local, the smoke and pollution from miles of burning forest can reach across several states.

The drought is the ultimate culprit for this year's poorer than average air quality. Dry air and a severe lack of rain has allowed for an expanded reach of ragweed pollen while simultaneously creating a tinderbox of forests. Long term weather patterns aren't providing much hope. Drier and warmer than normal conditions are expected to persist for several more weeks, and for most, relief won't come until the first frost of the year.

Until then, keep an eye on your local air quality index and try to limit outdoor activity during the worst days/times of day. For persistent conditions like coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, congestion and sinus pressure that simply won't go away, visit your local allergist or immunologist to determine if you might be a new allergy sufferer or dealing with something like bronchitis or sinusitis.

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, August 17, 2012
Ragweed FAQWith August nearly halfway over, allergy sufferers' attention often turns to one particular allergen - ragweed pollen. Generally starting in mid-August (slightly later throughout the South), ragweed causes allergic flare ups for millions of Americans every year, and with extremely hot and dry conditions gripping much of the country, this year could prove to be particularly challenging.

Ragweed is a generic term that actually covers over three dozen different species of plants. Here in the U.S., the most prevalent form of ragweed is A. artemisiifolia. Ragweed is fairly potent when compared to other types of pollen, and can be a problem for allergy sufferers even in areas where ragweed plants are not prolific. The pollen of ragweed is so light that in some instances, it can travel hundreds of miles before finally settling out of the air. Because there is a severe drought gripping nearly 3/4 of the country (and ragweed is well suited for warm, arid conditions), this year's ragweed season is likely to be a rough one!

There are several things you can do to reduce the impact of ragweed pollen during this time of year, but there are two general paths you can take - avoidance or treatment of symptoms. In terms of treating symptoms, there are a variety of allergy medications available. When taken prior to actually seeing symptoms, many can actually prevent the sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and other conditions that typify an allergic reaction. For some there can be issues with side effects or adverse reactions with other medications that person may be taking, and for other people, the expense of constantly taking allergy medication for several continuous weeks through ragweed season can just be too much expense.

On the hand, there is avoidance. Avoidance can and is more difficult than simply taking a pill. However, the benefits of it can mean less cost to your bottom line, no worry of adverse reactions, and less dependence on pills or potentially addictive nasal sprays. In terms of avoidance there are a few basic tips to keep in mind.
  • Keep Your Windows Closed - Whether at home or in your car, keeping your windows closed is a basic step to keep pollen out. If you want to keep your the windows open, try using a home window filter. These trap much of the pollen, ragweed and otherwise, but still allow some air to pass through and circulate throughout your home.

  • Watch the Pollen Count - This information is readily available through your local news outlet or a variety of online sources. Knowing when pollen counts are particularly high can help you schedule certain outdoor tasks to reduce exposure.

  • Rinse Your Sinuses - Many people who suffer from allergies already employ this method to flush allergens and soothe sore or inflamed sinuses. When used properly a simple, inexpensive device like a neti pot can make a big difference in how you feel and how well you can breathe through your nose.

Other methods to help avoid pollen including wearing a pollen mask when outdoors or using an air purifier indoors to remove allergens from the air in your home.

Whether you go with avoidance, medications or a combination of the two, both can bring relief and help to minimize the misery that ragweed season can bring.

For more information on ragweed pollen. Happy Breathing!

Author: Kevin Gilmore aka KevvyG

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