Your eyes are red, they burn and itch. You can't stop sneezing; your nose is either running or congested.

No question about it - the pollen season is here."It's an earlier pollen season because of the mild winter, and some tree pollen is already coming on - as allergy sufferers know," said Dr. Kay B. Walker, assistant professor, University of Utah School of Medicine pediatrics department, and a specialist in asthma and allergic diseases at the U. Hospital's allergy clinic.

She said the good news for victims of hay fever and other springtime allergies is that better prescription medications are available. They can now enjoy the season without suffering the annoying allergy symptoms.

"Some antihistamines for adults and children don't cause drowsiness, and others are more potent than in the past," Walker said. "Also, nasal sprays and eye drops now are very effective and safe, even for younger children."

There are also more specific, more effective antigens for people who must have injection therapy to eliminate the allergic response.

The specialist explained that with immunotherapy, patients are tested to determine which agents - pollen, dust, animal dander - are bothersome, then treatment is directed to the problem agents.

Walker, who is board-certified in pediatrics but also treats adults, explained that after three to four years, the injection regimen is effective for most patients so they don't require any further treatment.

Use of over-the-counter sprays is appropriate for a short term - three days or fewer - but these preparations definitely are not appropriate for seasonal allergy problems, Walker cautioned.

"A `rebound phenomenon' is associated with regular use of over-the-counter sprays," she explained. "The nose becomes so habituated to the spray that when use is discontinued, nasal passages become more congested than before. It's very difficult to get people off non-prescription nose sprays once they start using them regularly," she said.

There is no way to prevent an allergy, but a significant advance in serum therapy, one that will desensitize patients with only four shots a year, is being perfected, according to Dr. Robert W. Griffiths, associate professor in the U. School of Medicine's Division of Immunology and Allergy.

"Work is under way to find a formula for each pollen, so it will be a while before all patients on shot therapy will benefit," Griffiths said.

The physician said asthma patients also are benefiting from better medication. Inhaler therapies that go directly to the lungs with a minimum of side effects to the rest of the body are especially popular because this usually enables asthmatics to lead normal lives with little intervention.

Walker is not among physicians who believe asthma incidence is increasing. Mild asthma, such as the exercise asthma, is now being better recognized and treated, so the number of asthma patients is greater because doctors are more aware of it.

The very small increase in deaths from asthma is only in patients with rare, severe asthma who have not been aggressively treated. These people need the attention of specialists, she said.