Q: How can I avoid feeling miserable during ragweed season?

Every year, when August and September roll around, 20% of Americans rush out to buy antihistamines for their sudden congestion–sneezing, wheezing, and itchy-watery eyes. 

Most blame their misery on ragweed, a yellow, stalk-like plant that pumps pollen into the air at the end of the summer. But, they may be mistaken by assuming that their allergies are solely caused by ragweed. This can lead to overmedicating, overspending on OTC meds, missing work/school, and generally feeling sick and run down with only temporary relief. 

The immune system has a tipping point, at which it can no longer fight off reactions to offending allergens. Most people who have allergies are allergic to more than one thing, but symptoms usually arise when they are exposed to a few triggers at once. This is known as the allergic symptom threshold. 

For example you may be allergic to pet dander, dust mites, and pollen. For most of the year, the cumulative load of the pet dander and dust mite is just below threshold, causing no symptoms to arise. But in August when ragweed is in the air, you are pushed over the threshold and symptoms become unmanageable. 

The most important step you can take in managing your allergies is to find out what's causing them. Your primary care physician or allergist can administer a simple blood test to quickly and effectively determine allergic triggers. This information enables physicians to develop a focused, comprehensive allergy and asthma management plan. 

The bottom line is that by determining allergic triggers and mitigating exposure to them, you can significantly reduce symptoms and your need for medication. After determining your allergy profile, your doctor can work with you to map out an action plan that may include targeted exposure reduction and medication. 

Rob Reinhardt, MD, is currently the Senior Director Medical and Regulatory Affairs and Quality Management at Phadia, U.S. Inc, the makers of ImmunoCAP testing. He is also Associate Professor at Michigan State University. Dr. Reinhardt is a graduate of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and the Brown University Family Practice Residency. www.isitallergy.com