How to get ready for spring allergy season

When it comes to weather, February has been a doozy.

"We have had sort of what I call a rollercoaster ride in February," says Dr. Kathleen Sheerin, an allergist with Atlanta Allergy and Asthma.

There has been lots of rain and a some unusually warm days, causing the pollen count to spike about 1,000 in the middle of the month. Sheerin says that warmth can confuse the trees, leading them to start releasing their pollen early.

"What happened last year, is, everything happened at once," Sheerin says. "We had the pine pollen, the tree pollen, the oaks, and the maples, all perpetuating their pollen at once, and it was really a slam-bang for people."

It's too soon to say if we're in for an early, or particularly rough, spring allergy season. Sheerin says that will depend on how many more unusually warm, sunny days we have.

"Because the tree doesn't know it's February," she says. "The tree just knows the temperature and how much sun it's getting."

If you tend to get hit hard by hay fever symptoms, like a runny nose and watery eyes, she says, start thinking about preventing or lessening your symptoms soon.

"It's the time now to start taking your medicines," Sheerin says. "There are lots of options now that we used to not have, that are over-the-counter."

For mild spring allergies, Dr. Sheerin says, ask your pharmacist to suggest an allergy medication. You can try an over the counter antihistamine, which is now available in less expensive generics. Or, Sheerin says, you may want to go with an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray, or eye drops, although she doesn't recommend sprays or drops that contain a decongestant.

For more severe symptoms, she recommends seeing an allergist.

"If you really can't enjoy the spring, then talking to an allergist about allergy shots," Sheerin says. "Allergy shots can make a huge difference in the quality of life for people who can't go to their kid's soccer games or just become a hermit in the spring."