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Allergy season starts early

Caleb Jackson, 10, demonstrates his batting swing to Dr. Deidre Crocker while she checks his breathing Wednesday at The Allergy and Asthma Center in Conyers. Caleb's mom Amanda Jackson took him to the doctor to be teated for his allergy symptoms. Caleb is a fifth-grader at Middle Ridge Elementary School and the family resides in Newton County. - Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum

Caleb Jackson, 10, demonstrates his batting swing to Dr. Deidre Crocker while she checks his breathing Wednesday at The Allergy and Asthma Center in Conyers. Caleb's mom Amanda Jackson took him to the doctor to be teated for his allergy symptoms. Caleb is a fifth-grader at Middle Ridge Elementary School and the family resides in Newton County. - Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum

CONYERS -- Local residents are saying Aachoo! earlier this year.

Doctors across the country are reporting an earlier than usual start to allergy season, and it's no different in Newton and Rockdale counties.

"When is allergy season depends on who you are talking to and what they're allergic to," said Dr. Deidre Crocker with The Allergy and Asthma Center in Conyers.

In the spring, tree pollen is the primary source of aggravation for allergy sufferers and in the fall, it's weeds, primarily ragweed. Mold spores can also be a problem if there's been a good bit of rain.

Typically, the fall allergy season starts in September, but this year, patients experiencing hay fever symptoms were being seen in early August, Crocker said. That's because of last year's mild winter, which didn't kill off enough allergens.

Symptoms of allergy problems include congestion, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes and swelling tissues in the nose, which can lead to sinusitis. Asthma sufferers can also experience more flare ups. Kids are more susceptible to allergies during the fall as they start school and are swapping viral infections, Crocker said.

Typically, allergy treatment consists of three components: Environmental avoidance of the allergen, medication management with antihistamines and nasal spray and, if necessary, immunotherapy, or allergy shots.

Over-the-counter antihistamines such as Allegra, Claritan and Zyrtec or generic versions of those can be helpful. Crocker also recommends saline irrigation, such as neti pots, and nasal sprays to wash pollen out of the nose and thin out mucus. Neti pots should only be used with water that has been boiled or with distilled water, she said. Keeping windows closed when pollen is at its peak is also recommended.

If at-home treatments are not effective, it's time to see an allergist, especially if sufferers do not know what they are allergic to, Crocker said.

Crocker said it's important to remember that allergy medication doesn't work well if not used on a consistent basis. Sufferers who know they have problems during a particular season should go ahead and begin taking medications at the start of the season and continue throughout, she said.

"If they don't start treatment until they are extremely flared, it will not work as well," she said.

Crocker said warmer temperatures are resulting in fewer freezes to kill off pollen, so early allergy seasons may not be all that unusual in the future. Studies also suggest air pollution is having an impact, as increased carbon dioxide increases pollen and the allergenicity of pollen.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.