Image: Annual ragweed
William S. Justice  /  Smithsonian Institution via plan
annual ragweed
updated 8/25/2010 8:18:52 AM ET 2010-08-25T12:18:52

Pet and dust mite allergies tend to be year-round problems. But new research has found that those allergies actually pre-prime your immune system, setting up hay fever sufferers for a much stronger allergic reaction when ragweed season — the main cause of hay fever — hits in August.

In the study, published recently in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, researchers looked at 123 people allergic to ragweed and found that 66 percent of them tested positive for cat allergies, 63 percent tested positive for dog allergies, and 73 percent tested positive for dust mite allergies. To test for symptoms, study participants sat in a controlled room exposed to ragweed for three hours, and answered a symptom questionnaire every 30 minutes.

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They found that hay fever sufferers who are also allergic to dogs, cats, or dust mites developed symptoms of hay fever faster, earlier, and more severely than those who have been spared pet and dust mite allergies. Researchers conclude that treating the cat, dog, or dust mite allergy year-round may help make the hay fever more manageable.

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"People with hay fever react differently when ragweed allergy season arrives. Some start sneezing right away, and others don’t, so we wanted to determine what makes certain people develop symptoms more quickly," says allergist Anne K. Ellis, MD, lead author of the study and a member of The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

Sneeze at the cat, suffer with ragweed
For millions of people—as many as one in five Americans—mid-August is the start of miserable allergy symptoms as ragweed starts blooming. According to ACAAI, in one day each ragweed plant can produce a million pollen grains that can travel for miles. And ragweed allergy season could actually be worsening. In 2008, a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that increased temperatures and carbon dioxide levels as a result of global climate change are leading to an increase in pollen produced, causing longer plant-based allergy seasons.

Add to that the discovery that pet allergies worsen ragweed allergies and you have the makings of one miserable allergy season. The good news is there are several important steps you can take to bring on some serious hay fever relief.

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Save your sanity and find hay fever relief this ragweed season

  • Figure out what you're actually allergic to. Many people blindly pop all sorts of over-the-counter allergy pills when they don't even know what's actually triggering their allergies. Instead, go to an allergist for simple tests that can pinpoint exactly what you're allergic to and then take steps to treat your symptoms accordingly. You can also take a free relief self-test or find an allergist near you at
  • Don't fall for pet dander gimmicks. Although some people search for relief by bathing their pets with special shampoos, feeding them oral agents or applying topical sprays to reduce their shedding, religiously steam-cleaning carpets and curtains, or even going so far as to buy "nonallergic" or "hypoallergenic" pets, ACAAI contends that there's little evidence suggesting these things work to help ease allergies to pets. Instead, combat pet and dust mite allergy problems by replacing carpeting with hard surfaces like wood, tile, or polished stone. (Carpeted floors accumulate 100 times more cat allergens than hard floors, according to ACAAI.) Wash bedding and curtains in cool water with two rinses, and limit the amount of fabric upholstered furniture in your house. It acts as a cat dander magnet.

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  • Eat to beat hay fever. In "The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns
    " (Rodale, 2009), experts recommend cutting back, or cutting out, alcohol, caffeine, food preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors, dairy, refined sugar, meat, soda, egg yolks, as well as trans fats, to help alleviate hay fever. Eliminating all of those may not be completely possible for your situation, but trial and error could help you determine which of them have the biggest impact on your allergies. Other food fixes—such as eating broccoli, citrus fruits, collard greens, kale, elderberries, and onions and garlic—can incite immunity-boosting, allergy-easing processes in your body.
  • Resist ragweed aggravation. ACAAI offers the following tips for relief from the sneezing, stuffy nose, and watery eyes triggered by the pesky ragweed.
  1. Start taking proper allergy medication by the start of August. Don't wait for the sneezing to start.
  2. As mentioned above, deal with year-round allergies accordingly so they don't exacerbate your ragweed allergy.
  3. Minimize peak pollen exposure by avoiding outdoor activities between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.
  4. Get someone else to do your yard work! If you have to do it yourself, opt for a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)–approved N95 respirator mask.
  5. Wear glasses or sunglasses outdoors to keep pollen from irritating your eyes.
  6. Avoid irritants and air pollutants like cigarette smoke, insecticides, fertilizers, and gas fumes.

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