Spring is in the air — and way too early if you’re an allergy sufferer.

“I’m not used to feeling this way for at least another month,” says Michael Arnone, 40, who’s marked the change of seasons with nasal congestion, watery eyes and a scratchy throat since he was in the eighth grade. “When you live with allergies for a couple decades, you expect things to happen in a cyclical way. This year all bets are off.”

The weather has not only popped open cherry blossoms ahead of schedule, but it’s also pumped up the pollen count. Tree pollen was “high” nine times between March 1 and 19, compared with five times all of last March, according to the National Allergy Bureau Pollen and Mold Report. “I’ve been practicing allergy medicine in Washington since 1972, and I have to say, this is one of the earliest tree pollen seasons I’ve seen and one of the most intense at this early date,” says Dr. Daniel Ein, director of the Allergy & Sinus Center at the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates.

Even if your eyes like trees, your immune system might not, Ein says. “The body almost behaves as if the tree pollen were an invading enemy that has to be gotten rid of,” he explains. “It mounts a defense against it by causing the nose to water—to wash out the pollen—and people to sneeze to get rid of it.”

D.C. ranks 66th on the American Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Allergy Capitals list this year, compared with 25th last year, indicating that things could be worse, especially if you live in Knoxville, Tenn. (which came in first place). But try telling that to Glover Park resident Chris Kain, 42, who’s been taking allergy meds for weeks already. “I just hope that the season starting early means that it will end earlier, not that it will be longer,” Kain says.

Unfortunately, there’s no reprieve in sight. “The way things are going now, I expect it to be a pretty bad season,” says Ein, who suggests closing windows, removing shoes, washing your hands and changing your clothes when you come in from outside to limit your pollen exposure.

Medications are the next line of defense, but if pills don’t spell relief, Ein says, you may want to consider allergy shots, aka regular injections of whatever it is your body is allergic to in order to train your immune system to respond more appropriately.

“They’re the only treatment that we have that actually does change your immune system and shuts off the reaction that’s causing the misery,” he says.

If they work, you’ll eventually get to enjoy these warmer temperatures.

Petal Pusher
Flowers may be to blame for your runny nose, but they can also be a remedy, says Evan Rabinowitz, director of Chinese herbal studies at the Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel, Md. He suggests floating chrysanthemum flowers in green tea. Place the tea bag onto your eyelids to soothe them, and drink up to clear your sinuses. (Just be sure you’re not allergic to chrysanthemums.)