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It's still winter, but allergies are here

Tuesday - 2/25/2014, 4:21am  ET

WASHINGTON -- It's still winter, but while the trees are bare, allergy sufferers are starting to sneeze their way toward spring.

"A runny nose, a stuffy nose, sneezing, nasal drainage, itchy, watery eyes - for a given person, one symptom might be worse than another," says Dr. Patricia McNally, an allergist with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group.

Recent Washington-area weather may have been near-perfect for producing the tree pollen that aggravates the eyes, noses and throats of allergy sufferers.

"Some of these plants need a real chilling period before they do pollinate, and we certainly had that in place this winter. And then, of course, as soon as it starts warming up some, with the sun and the warm temps, if it's a breezy day too, you'll get a lot of pollen," says Susan Kosisky, microbiologist at the U.S. Army Centralized Allergen Extract Laboratory.

"The alders, the elms, the birches and the maples have just started to pollinate, so if folks are feeling it, they're correct," Kosisky says.

So what can you do to cope with your allergies?

"Generally, if patients could avoid being outdoors on high-pollen days, avoidance is the best," says McNally, who has been treating allergy patients for 24 years.

McNally also recommends over-the-counter medication for symptomatic relief.

"Over-the-counter non-sedating antihistamines are quite effective," she says.

It's also important to shower and shampoo after being outside on high pollen days.

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