CONTACT: STEVE MARAVETZ
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8037; fax (319) 335-8034
EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: The University of Iowa will provide daily
pollen counts beginning Monday, Aug. 10, and continuing throughout ragweed
season. For daily counts, call the UI pollen count information line at
(319) 335-7641 or access the UI pollen count website at http://ictg.uiowa.edu/ictg/ragweed.htm
UI researcher says it's a bumper crop of ragweed this year
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Allergy sufferers, take cover. There's a bumper crop
of ragweed ready to start pollinating, according to John Weiler, M.D.,
professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa College of Medicine
and an allergy researcher.
Watery eyes, scratchy throats, runny noses and sneezing mark the beginning
of ragweed season, a stretch of late summer dreaded by millions of people
with allergies. Weiler said the traditional start of the ragweed season
is about Aug. 10.
"I thought it might start a little earlier this year because of
the early spring, but we're right on schedule," Weiler said.
Ragweed allergies -- also known as hay fever -- affect nearly 15 percent
of Americans. Iowa and other Midwestern states offer ideal conditions for
the ubiquitous ragweed plant, which releases its pollen into the air for
about six weeks starting in mid-August.
"Every year is a good year for ragweed and a bad year for people
with allergies," said Weiler. "The plant always grows well in
Iowa, regardless of weather."
The chief culprits are actually two plants, Ambrosia artemisifolia,
or common ragweed, and Ambrosia trifida, best known as giant ragweed
or horseweed. Each year, more than 250,000 tons of their microscopic pollen
grains are blown about the United States.
Starting Monday, Aug. 10, and continuing through the end of ragweed
season in late September, the UI College of Medicine will offer daily pollen
counts to help people with allergies gauge their symptoms. Those pollen
counts will be posted on the World Wide Web at http://ictg.uiowa.edu/ictg/ragweed.htm.
A thin, transparent tube atop a building on the UI health science campus
collects airborne pollen grains that are measured by researchers. Though
daily counts record the amount of pollen detected over the previous 24
hours, they are usually a good indicator of current conditions.
A pollen count of 200 or less is said to fall into the "comfort
zone," meaning that most people will be free of allergy symptoms.
The "discomfort zone" includes counts from 220 to 1,000 and indicates
that most people with ragweed allergy will feel its effects. Counts greater
than 1,000 -- the "severe discomfort zone" -- mean serious symptoms
in people who are most sensitive to ragweed and milder reactions in those
who seldom experience symptoms at lower levels.
Allergies occur when the body's immune system overreacts to an otherwise
harmless substance like ragweed pollen. Inhaled pollen adheres to antibodies
produced by the body and triggers an immune reaction that causes respiratory
symptoms, or allergic rhinitis. During ragweed season, some people allergic
to the plant may also react to foods that contain similar proteins, including
chamomile, cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon.
Allergy symptoms can be severe, even incapacitating, and avoiding pollen
on the worst days is the best way to prevent symptoms. "If possible,
stay indoors in air-conditioned areas, particularly in the early morning
when the ragweed plant produces most of its pollen," Weiler said.
The safest times to venture outside are in late evening or after a rainfall.
Since ragweed pollen clings to hair and clothes, washing one's hair
before bedtime may reduce symptoms, as can frequent vacuuming, dusting,
and laundering bedding. Contact lenses can increase eye irritation, so
people with ragweed allergies may want to avoid them on heavy pollen days.
Non-prescription antihistamines and nasal sprays may also provide relief,
but relying on sprays can bring additional problems. When overused, sprays
can cause swelling in the nose and mimic allergy symptoms. Physicians can
prescribe stronger medications for people with the worst symptoms. For
more information, consult your physician or other health care provider.
Weiler and other researchers at the UI are conducting two studies during
ragweed season '98. In one, participants are invited to spend Saturday,
Aug. 29, at Iowa City's City Park recording their allergy symptoms while
testing a new allergy medication.
In the other study, participants will record their allergy symptoms
and receive allergy treatments for one week. For more information, call
1-800-356-1659 or 356-1659 locally.