Ragweed, a nuisance that's nothing to sneeze at!
Medically speaking, ragweed pollen stimulates antibody production, which triggers the release of histamine in the body. Histamines, in turn, cause nasal congestion, tearing eyes, chronic sneezing and itchy nose and throat. Severity varies with the individual, but repeat attacks may lead to the onset of asthma and/or secondary infections that can cause sinusitis, headaches, and insomnia.
The Direction de la santé publique de Montréal estimates that 10 per cent of Quebec's population suffers from allergies caused by ragweed. In addition, according to a study conducted by the Direction de la santé publique de Montréal and the Comité de santé environnementale du Québec, Quebecers spend at least 50 million dollars a year on consultation, treatment, medication and transportation related to ragweed allergies.
This annual plant looks quite harmless and resembles most other weeds. Common ragweed reaches an average height of 70 cm (or just over 2 feet). Its hairy stem is crowned by narrow, grayish-green leaves with jagged edges. During the months of June and July, the plant sprouts tiny green flowers clustered in the shape of a spike at the end of the stems. In August, the flowers bloom, releasing billions of pollen grains into the air.
Where does it grow?
Ragweed takes hold quickly and can grow in practically any type of soil. You will find it around sidewalk edges, railroad rights-of-way, back lanes, exposed rock crevices, construction sites, vacant lots, or even in the back of your garden.
When eaten raw, certain foods (melon, banana, cucumber) can cause reactions in persons who are allergic to ragweed. This phenomenon is called “cross-reactivity”. The main symptom is a tingling sensation around the mouth and in your throat.
Tips for minimizing hay fever symptoms
- Avoid outdoor activities when the concentration of pollen in the air is high, particularly between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Limit your outdoor activities at the end of the day when ragweed pollen is less abundant, or after a rain shower, while pollen grains are still stuck to the ground.
- Avoid mowing the lawn yourself and coming into contact with other irritants, such as tobacco smoke.
- Use air conditioning or an air filter.
In Westmount, all residents are responsible for ensuring that there is no ragweed on their own property.
- If there are just a few plants, simply pull them up or mow them. Be careful, however, as timing is important. Only mow over ragweed during the months of June or July, before it flowers. Otherwise, mowing will only spread the pollen further, making the problem worse. Ragweed plants can also be disposed of in Westmount’s curbside garden waste collection every Wednesday from April to November.
- Mow your garden (or have it mown) evenly, on a regular basis, especially at the edge of your property, taking care to fill in any bare spots.
- Sow new plant species that will compete with the ragweed, and prevent it from taking hold.
If you find ragweed along a City street or back lane, or in a public green space in Westmount, you should contact the Public Works Department immediately to request that it be removed.
Friday, January 30, 2009