Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Ragweed Season Begins in Earnest

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Allergist and Rutgers Professor Confirms Ragweed - and Allergy Season - Arrives Early

August 7, 2014

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Despite modeling the projected ragweed release to occur in one to two weeks, “Ragweed season has begun,” said Leonard Bielory, MD, as he counted the pollen this morning.

Dr. Bielory is an attending allergist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Professor at Rutgers University Center for Environmental Prediction and an Executive Committee member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) with a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey.

“The mold spore count has been unusually high for this time of season, but with the rain that we have had and unusually cool seasonal temperatures – ragweed pollen release has started a solid week earlier and there has been mold spores flowing throughout the end of July and into August,” according to Dr. Bielory.

Dr. Bielory, who also serves as principal investigator of a United States Environmental Protection Agency grant studying Climate Change and Allergic Airway Disease, has previously published findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the potential impact of climate change and earlier release and prolonged duration of pollination of ragweed in the United States.

“The earlier sighting in the New York Metropolitan area is consistent with our findings that climate change may be affecting pollen release and earlier development of allergies,” said Dr. Bielory.

A single ragweed plant can produce up to one billion pollen grains, causing misery for the millions of people who suffer from poorly managed seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever), according to Dr. Bielory. He adds, “And, each grain can travel more than 100 miles.”

Dr. Bielory and his collaborators have suggested that rising temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels contribute to longer growth time of allergen-producing plants.  They are presently examining the impact of three different temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations that have been predicted will occur over the next several decades.

Considered one the most allergenic of all pollens, ragweed pops up in the Eastern and Midwest states everywhere starting in mid-to-late August. Ragweed pollen is the primary culprit of late-summer and early-fall allergies. Symptoms used to start in mid-August and run through September, but in many parts of the country these symptoms now begin in early August and extend through October. Symptoms include:

• Sneezing 
• Stuffy or runny nose 
• Itchy eyes, nose and throat 
• Worsening of asthma 

The first step in managing these symptoms is proper diagnosis. An allergist/immunologist will give a physical exam, ask about your health history and perform allergy testing to determine specific sensitivities – “what you are and not allergic to,” Dr. Bielory explained. He normally recommends that his patients mark their calendars to begin taking medication before ragweed allergy symptoms start. Mid-to-late August is when ragweed blooms in most of the country, but it blooms a little later in the South.

He offers the following advice for the remainder of summer 2014:

Keep the pollen outside out. Ragweed travels with the wind, so close windows in your house and car.

- Come clean. After spending time outdoors, shower, change and wash your clothes.  Clean your nasal passages, too, by using a salt water rinse or using something he has used in his office – Sinusol (a herbal-based preparation for a nasal lavage)

- Mask your misery. Wear a face mask when you garden or mow the lawn. Better yet, assign those tasks to family members who don’t suffer from hay fever. 
 
- Consider a cure. If non-prescription medication isn’t doing the trick, it may be time to see an allergist who can provide more effective treatment. One option is immunotherapy – allergy shots. The treatment involves regular injections with pollen allergens.  Immunotherapy can significantly lessen or get rid of nasal and eye allergy symptoms altogether. “Allergy shots not only reduce allergy symptoms and medication use, they can prevent the development of asthma and other allergies,” said Dr. Bielory.

Don’t let up too soon! Because the nasal and eye symptoms associated with ragweed allergies can linger after the pollen can no longer be detected in the air, don’t stop your allergy medication immediately.

To get the day's pollen count, visit www.rwjuh.edu/pollencount.

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is a 965-bed academic medical center with campuses in New Brunswick and Somerville, NJ. Its Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, joint replacement, and women’s and children’s care including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (www.bmsch.org). As the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the principal teaching hospital of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, RWJUH is an innovative leader in advancing state-of-the-art care. A Level 1 Trauma Center and the only Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

RWJUH has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report seven times and has been selected by the publication as a high performing hospital in numerous specialties. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report for three consecutive years.

Both the New Brunswick and Somerset campuses have earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety, including the prestigious Magnet® Award for Nursing Excellence, an “A” patient safety rating from the Leapfrog Group and “Most Wired” designation by Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine. The Joint Commission and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services have designated the New Brunswick Campus as a Comprehensive Stroke Center and the Somerset Campus as a Primary Stroke Center.

The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer has rated RWJUH New Brunswick among the nation’s best comprehensive cancer centers and designated the Steeplechase Cancer Center at RWJ Somerset as a Comprehensive Community Cancer Center. The Joint Surgery Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset has earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for total knee and total hip replacement surgery.