Ragweed Season Has Come Early This Year

By Christie Duffy

Climate change could mean more sneezing for people like Roy Villafane.

He’s at the allergist’s office today, getting shots to help him cope with the early arrival of ragweed season.

“Since I’m in the woods a lot during the summer, this is a godsend. So I’m glad I’m going and getting these shots. I’ve been getting these shots for many years,” he said.

Even though ragweed has arrived early, But Dr. Leonard Bielory says not every allergy sufferer has started sneezing.

“Ragweed pollen hasn’t been coming out in strength yet and it will probably truly come out in strength after this major rain and a nice dry spell occurs. So expect the peak to really start turning on,” he said.

And when it does, these little plants can release a billion grains of pollen a piece. One square mile of them is estimated to produce 16 tons of yellow dust.

But that peak of pollen release may not be as overpowering as in the past. Dr. Michael Mattikow, an associate clinical professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, reportedly says ragweed is being pushed out by an invasive non-allergenic plant called Pennsylvania smartweed.

The allergist studies patterns in ragweed pollination. Three out of four people with allergies are allergic to ragweed. The plant is frequently confused with golden rod, a more floral plant that attracts bees. The less conspicuous ragweed has been seeing a longer season in the past 20 years, thanks to warmer, wetter weather.

“It started earlier and ended later over a period of 20 years — almost a day per year it started to change,” Bielory said.

A study by Bielory and others from Rutgers found a warming climate is associated with the increased length of ragweed season. The EPA has it listed on their website as one of the health indicators of climate change.

“If you drew a line from Texas to Canada, you will see it starts earlier and ends later as you move further north,” Bielory said.

Bielory has been pollen counting for the state of New Jersey for over 20 years. And he says the number of people here with allergies has doubled.

Overall, Bielory says people are having more allergic reactions with greater symptoms to a wider variety of pollens and other allergens.