Ragweed is a weed that can grow pretty much anywhere. It can often be found along the side of the road, in vacant lots and in fields, and it is most prevalent from mid-August through October. In an average season, ragweed produces a billion grains of pollen -- the plant's "sperm" that travels on the wind to reach other plants and fertilize them. Ragweed pollen is a major cause of seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, and 75 percent of them are allergic to ragweed.

Symptoms of a ragweed allergy include runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy, watery swollen eyes. Severe allergies can also cause headaches, chronic sinusitis, asthma attacks and impaired sleep. Sleep problems can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and even depression. Ragweed allergy can also cause oral allergy syndrome (OAS). This causes seasonal allergy symptoms to worsen after the sufferer consumes fresh fruits (especially cantaloupe and banana) or vegetables. Common symptoms of OAS include itchiness of the throat and mouth as well as mild swelling (angiodema).

If you suspect you have an allergy to ragweed or any type of allergic rhinitis you should see an allergist for a proper diagnosis and prescription of medication to help you with your symptoms. To help control your symptoms you can try tracking the pollen count in your area so you'll know when to expect good and bad allergy days. You should stay indoors on days with high pollen counts and during peak pollen times (around 10 am to 4 pm), especially on warm, dry days during which pollen travels easily. It's also a good idea to keep windows closed and using air conditioning, set on "recirculate." Shower after you spend time outdoors, to remove pollen from your skin and hair; and dry your sheets and clothing indoors instead of on the line so pollen won't collect on them.