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Can Sage Brush Worsen Asthma Symptoms?

written by: Genevieve Van Wyden • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/21/2011

Parents ask their child’s allergy doctors, “Can sage brush make asthma worse?" If the child develops seasonal allergies to various pollens, he can be sensitive to sage brush. In addition, if the child has asthma, the sage brush can exacerbate his symptoms.

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    Overview

    Sage Brush Children go outdoors to play, winter, spring, summer and fall. For children diagnosed with allergies and asthma, one particular time of year can be difficult as pollen levels peak in the late summer and early fall. Sage brush is one type of plant that can worsen asthma symptoms.

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    Pollen Family

    Sage brush falls into the ragweed pollen family, along with other weeds like lambs quarters, curly dock, sheep sorrel and pigweed. The sage brush weed falls into the Compositae family, with 17 different species of ragweed growing in the United States. Seventy-five percent of Americans allergic to pollen react to ragweeds.

    Ragweed producers are “some of the most prolific producers" of allergens, which makes breathing difficult for asthmatics who suffer from allergies. Telltale symptoms include sneezing, irritated, watery eyes, runny nose, itchy throat and asthma attacks, according to the Alabama Allergy and Asthma Center. [1]

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    Pollen Season

    Pollen season begins in late August and runs through November; ragweed pollen season peaks in mid-September. The Alabama Allergy & Asthma Center points out that ragweed releases pollens into the air until the first frost kills the weed off. [1]

    Pollen counts are highest in early to mid-morning (5 to 10 a.m.) and on windy, hot days, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS). [2]

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    Sage Brush Does Exacerbate Asthma

    Because of its classification as a ragweed pollen producer, sage brush does make asthma symptoms worse in sensitive individuals (those who suffer from allergic asthma, and in particular, those who are allergic to ragweeds).

    Ragweed allergies develop in sensitive individuals because their immune systems are overly sensitive. They react much more strongly to ragweed and sage brush when others don’t feel any negative effects. [1]

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    Prevent Asthma Attacks

    For sensitive individuals (both allergies and asthma) who ask “can sage brush make asthma worse," several strategies may help to reduce symptoms--these include staying inside between the hours of 5 and 10 a.m. when possible; keeping windows in the home, car and office closed and relying on indoor air conditioners rather than allowing outdoor (and ragweed-tainted) air indoors; drying clothing in an automatic dryer rather than hanging the wet clothes outdoors; avoiding as much pollen exposure from people and pets who bring it indoors.

    If these individuals must go outdoors, they may be better able to avoid the worst of the pollen if they go out in late afternoon or after a rainstorm has eliminated pollen from the air, suggests the NIEHS. [2]

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    One Athlete's Experience

    One teen athlete from Nevada, who signed up as a soccer player, knew he was allergic to several kinds of pollen, including sage brush. He played soccer during the late summer and early fall, when all kinds of pollen were being released into the air.

    His father (coach) was not always able to help him control his allergy attacks, so he realized he needed to take control of his symptoms himself. Shortly after this, his parents helped him modify the actuator (the plastic housing the medication canister) so he could wear it on a string around his neck and treat his symptoms himself as needed, writes the Allergy and Asthma Network. [3]

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    Conclusion

    Ragweed starts spreading, causing misery and unmistakable symptoms for sensitive individuals every year. If these individuals already know they have a sensitivity, they can take precautions to prevent unneeded asthma attacks. This includes keeping rescue inhalers close by, avoiding pollen when it is at its highest and keeping the pollen off of clothing and pets.

    This article is not intended as medical advice. Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about allergies, asthma or possible triggers.

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    References

    [1] Ragweed Season is Here. Alabama Allergy & Asthma Center, retrieved at http://www.alabamaallergy.com/featuredarticle/ragweedseason.asp

    [2] Pollen. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, retrieved at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/asthma/allergens/pollen/

    [3] Life with Asthma and Allergies. Straight Talk from AANMA’s Teen Ambassadors. June 2010, retrieved at http://www.aanma.org/2010/06/life-with-asthma-and-allergies-straight-talk-from-aanma%E2%80%99s-teen-ambassadors/

    Photo by Serena McClain / Flickr