You probably don't love the crippling heat waves that repeatedly hit the country this summer. But you know what does love those steamy temps?

Ragweed.

Yes, in addition to making us all sweaty and uncomfortable, experts say this summer's hot weather also caused the hated allergen to pop up ahead of schedule, leading to an early influx of sniffling and sneezing throughout the region.

"This is looking like a pretty big year for ragweed," said Dr. Kevin McGrath, an allergist affiliated with St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport.

For those who don't know their ragweed from their pet dander, here's a quick primer. Ragweeds are weeds particularly prevalent in Eastern and Midwestern states, that live only one season.

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Got ragweed allergies? Asthma? Here are some tips for keeping your symptoms in check: Keep windows closed during pollen season, especially during the day. Stay inside at mid-day and afternoon hours, when pollen counts are highest. If you have to engage in outdoor chores, like gardening or mowing the lawn, consider wearing a face mask. If non-prescription medication isn't easing your pain, see an allergist. He or she might be able to provide more effective treatments, including, possibly, allergy shots. Take a shower, wash your hair, and change clothing after spending time outdoors. Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

They make that season count, however, producing up to one billion pollen grains, with each grain traveling more than 100 miles. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, for which McGrath is a spokesman, states that one in 10 Americans are affected by ragweed allergies, with symptoms including sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, itchy eyes and trouble sleeping.

Usually, McGrath said, patients suffering from ragweed allergy symptoms sniffle their way into his office the second week of August. This year, he said, he began seeing these patients the first week of August -- not significantly earlier, but the severity of their symptoms are already at level he doesn't typically see until the end of the month.

Dr. Michael King, an allergist at Bridgeport Hospital, said he began seeing a spike in allergy sufferers near the end of July -- a good three to four weeks earlier than normal.

Both doctors linked the early arrival of pollen-related misery to the weather. McGrath, who also has an office in Wethersfield, said the maturation and pollen release of ragweed is brought on by longer nights and a spike in heat and humidity. "I think we saw a lot of early heat and humidity this year," McGrath said.

Not only did we have a hot summer but, as King pointed out, "we didn't have much of a winter this year," which also could have been a factor in the early symptoms.

At least one patient said he's already experienced some ragweed-related suffering. Steve Neiss, a 68-year-old Bridgeport resident, said, a few weeks ago, he began getting red, watery eyes, a skin rash and other symptoms. "I didn't know what it was," he said

Neiss -- who spends about five months a year in Connecticut and the rest of the year in Florida -- said he's never had an allergic reaction to anything before.

His wife, however, has allergies, so he visited King, who is her doctor. It turned out the Neiss was allergic to several things, including ragweed. He was prescribed some medication and said the symptoms have calmed.

An early and intense ragweed season is not the only concern facing Connecticut residents this year. This should also be a rough year for asthma sufferers, said Dr. Hossein Sadeghi, Stamford Hospital's director of pediatric pulmonology. Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways, which can be exacerbated by exercise, sudden weather changes and substances like pollen and mold.

Sadeghi said September typically is the worst month for asthma. But that, too could arrive early this year and be severe. Like the other doctors, Sadeghi said the mild winter and hot summer are primarily to blame. He said allergy seasons have been getting progressively worse for several years now, with both spring and fall allergy seasons starting sooner and ending later.

"We used to get a break in the summer time," Sadeghi said. "We don't see that any more."

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