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Ragweed worse-than-normal this year; likely to take a frost to end it

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 7:53 a.m.

In one day last week, eight new patients consulted allergist Dr. David Skoner at Allegheny General Hospital for ragweed allergies.

“We are struggling to get all of the patients seen,” Skoner said of demand during an already tough ragweed allergy season.

The hospital's pollen counter registers levels of ragweed pollen that are double those of last year. And there's little relief in sight, Skoner said.

“Ragweed season usually lasts until the middle of October, until it gets cold enough for a first frost. So this could be a long haul for a lot of people,” he said.

Allegheny General is the measuring site for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Pollen readings for ragweed at the North Side hospital have been high compared to moderate readings at this time last summer.

Accuweather predicts that ragweed could bring on worse-than-normal allergies throughout the eastern United States.

“I would suspect that people who suffer from ragweed will be sneezing a lot,” meteorologist Tom Kines said.

Ragweed grows anywhere, from river banks and roadsides to desert areas. Each plant is capable of producing 1 billion grains of pollen in a season, and that pollen can travel as far as 400 miles.

Rain since mid-July contributed to a bumper crop of ragweed, Kines said.

“There's been warm weather and adequate rainfall in the past three to four weeks — good conditions for this plant to grow,” he said.

Symptoms of ragweed allergies include congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itching and blocked ears.

“It has a big impact on quality of life,” said Skoner, whose daughter Julianne, 20, a junior at St. Francis University in Cambria County, started to develop severe allergy symptoms last week.

“It is like a very heavy cold. This has never been worse for me than it's been this year,” she said.

People can treat ragweed allergies with over-the-counter antihistamines, various blockers and nasal steroid sprays. About 10 percent of those who suffer from allergies get shots, Skoner said.

This month's high ragweed count is not the year's first pollen oddity. In February, the hospital's rooftop pollen counter, which provides the city's official pollen readings, detected pollen for the first time ever in that month.

For information about receiving daily emails from Allegheny General about pollen levels, call 412-359-3217.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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