CLEVELAND – For those who find themselves sniffling and sneezing in late summer or early fall – ragweed pollen is likely to blame.

About 23 million Americans have ragweed allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.  But sometimes it’s hard to tell if the source of the sniffles is a cold, or an allergy.

Cleveland Clinic allergist Alice Hoyt, M.D., said itching is often a telltale sign of allergies.

“Because of the way allergy cells work when they’re activated, they secrete itchy chemicals,” she said. 

Dr. Hoyt said ragweed allergies may cause an itchy nose, throat and eyes, along with sneezing, nasal congestion and watery eyes.

Over-the-counter allergy products can often help relieve symptoms, until ragweed plants die off after the first frost.

Until then, Dr. Hoyt recommends a three step treatment regimen.

First, use a sterile saline spray to rinse pollen and mucus out of the nose. Tilt the head back, and spray the sterile saline into the nose, with the nozzle pointing down, for about five seconds on each side, and then lean forward and blow your nose.

Second, use an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray to reduce allergic inflammation. It’s best to point the nozzle straight up, or slightly towards the ear to avoid irritating the bone in the center of the nose.

Finally, Dr. Hoyt recommends taking allergy medication.

“The third step of it all is an over-the-counter antihistamine, and we recommend the newer antihistamines because they’re less sedating than some of our older antihistamines,” said Dr. Hoyt. 

Allergy shots and immunotherapy tablets are also available for long-term ragweed relief, but Dr. Hoyt said it generally takes about 6-18 months for the immune system to begin to build up tolerance against the allergen.

If someone is unsure if they have allergies, it’s best to talk to a doctor.

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