By Stephanie Stahl


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Feeling like you might have a cold? Maybe not. Welcome to ragweed season, and the allergy alert is high.

About 23 million Americans have ragweed allergies. The sniffles that come with allergies are also symptoms of a cold. Scientists say there are a few key differences.

The Philadelphia skyline is clear from the Art Museum steps. It’s what you can’t see — ragweed pollen in the air — that’s triggering allergy symptoms.

Those symptoms — congestion and sneezing — can also be signs of a cold. Itching is a often a telltale sign of allergies.

“Because of the way allergy cells work when they’re activated, they secrete itchy chemicals, so that’s one way — sort of a rule of thumb allergy is present, as opposed to a viral infection or a cold is how itchy are you?” Dr. Alice Hoyt, with the Cleveland Clinic, said.

Please Stop Kissing Your Chickens Amid Nationwide Salmonella Outbreak, CDC Says

In addition to feeling itchy, ragweed allergies also cause watery eyes and symptoms can last for a long time. Colds usually last one to two weeks.

Ragweed season generally lasts from mid-August until the first frost.

Over-the-counter allergy products can often help relieve symptoms. A sterile saline spray is helpful for rinsing pollen and mucus out of the nose.

Also over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays can reduce allergic inflammation and there are medications formulated specifically for allergies.

New Cancer Treatment Would Prevent Hair Loss, Researchers Say

“An over-the-counter antihistamine and we recommend the newer antihistamines because they’re less sedating than some of our older antihistamines,” Hoyt said.

With people outside enjoying a beautiful day on Kelly Drive, scientists say ragweed has become excessive mainly because of extreme weather — high temperatures and heavy rain — that creates the perfect environment for ragweed.

As a result, the allergy season becomes longer and more brutal.

For people with severe allergies, allergy shots and immunotherapy tablets can provide more long-term ragweed relief.

Stephanie Stahl