Dear Answer Man, it seems like everybody I know is suffering terribly from allergies lately. What’s causing it, how long will it last, and how we can find relief?

I like nothing better than sniffing out answers, and on this occasion I had Dr. Martha Hartz to help me.

Hartz is an allergist-immunologist at Mayo Clinic, chief among the nose-knowers in Mayo’s pediatrics division. What’s bothering you this week is probably ragweed, Dr. Hartz says. Russian thistle is another chief offender at this time of year.

“Tree pollen peaks in the spring, grass pollen peaks in the summer, and weed pollen peaks in the fall,” she said. “The good news is it’s a short, six-week (fall allergy) season,” usually starting around the same time school starts, near the end of August, and lasting through the month of September.

Rain like we had on Monday helps, but “as soon as the sun comes out, though, it’ll start pollinating again,” Dr. Hartz said.

The good news is, nobody’s died of a ragweed allergy. Still more good news is there are plenty of allergy medicines to choose from. The best category of those, Dr. Hartz said, are the intranasal corticosteroids, of which Flonase is one. But you’ve got to make taking it a daily practice, and it takes at least a couple of weeks to ramp up the effectiveness.

Antihistamines, like Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec, are other options. If you want to get really serious, you can see Dr. Hartz or one of her colleagues and get on a shots regimen. That course of treatment, however, is administered over three to five years, and takes about a year to gain effectiveness. I’m guessing the cost is nothing to sneeze at, either.

In the meantime, we’ve got another few weeks of ragweed season to enjoy. After that, there’s often a brief mold allergy season in October. And after that, Dr. Hartz?

“There is a positive to winter — for people with allergies.”

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