Some of the earliest pollen producers are hard at it, and people who are sensitive to them are feeling the first itchy, eye-stinging, sniffly misery of spring.

Elm trees are the earliest pollen producers, but other trees will begin sending their little airborne gifts aloft soon, ready to be inhaled by allergy sufferers. That will last through May, overlapping with grass allergies, which begin in earnest in April and last three to four months. In summer, weed pollen will kick in, as well.

"It will be interesting to see if we have higher-than-average pollen counts from trees, because of the wet winter," said Dr. Greg Wickern, allergist at Intermountain Allergy Center in Salt Lake City. "Wet springs boost grass pollen and the potential for suffering. It's less predictable when it comes to trees."

People with mild symptoms, like an annoying little sneeze or itchy eyes, usually can get adequate relief from an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Claritin, Alavert and Zyrtec, Wickern said.

"But if you start to feel like you have a whopper of a head cold that goes on and on despite an OTC, that's when seeing your doctor for prescription nose sprays and antihistamines can help. Some people will feel like they're coming down with a viral respiratory tract infection that will go on for the entire season. It's bad enough to have a head cold for 10 days, let alone 10 to 12 weeks," Wickern said.

Studies say seasonal allergies actually affect performance at school, work and home. After a study showed that college entrance wannabes who had seasonal allergies scored lower on average than others during entrance tests, which took place in spring, England changed to allow several testing periods throughout the year.

"I call allergies the Rodney Dangerfield of illness," said Wickern. "It doesn't get much respect, unless you suffer yourself."

If allergies dampen your spring, there are things you can do. Allergy experts say to use the car air conditioning, instead of driving around with open windows. Close windows at home because pollen can blow in. When you go home, a quick shower will wash the pollen out of hair, which acts as a wick. Otherwise, when you sleep, you'll apply the pollen to your pillow, then rub your face in it all night.

Some people take extra steps, like wearing little surgical masks when they're outside. That doesn't help the eyes, which also react to pollen.

Wickern warns that allergies can move south, from the upper airways into the lungs. Pollen can trigger asthma in those with the right combination of genetics and pollen sensitivity.

Some medicines, such as inhaled steroids, can significantly help people who routinely have spring hay fever, if they start taking them about two weeks before the season begins. Any physician can prescribe them. If you have mild allergies, don't bother. Taking antihistamines as a prevention doesn't help.

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