Spring allergy season hitting early, hard in South

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The spring allergy season is hitting early in the South, and experts say it could be a long few months for sufferers.

Max Howard, a professional actor from Sandy Springs, Georgia, used to dread spring, before he started coming in every month for allergy shots.

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"(It was) murder," Howard says. "I couldn't breathe. My nose was running, my sinuses were going crazy."

The trees would release their pollen into the air, and Howard's immune system would kick into overdrive, triggering painful swelling and inflammation in his sinuses and lungs. 

"It's like having an ongoing explosion in your head, contained within your skull. It's enormous pressure. And it takes your energy, it just saps your energy," he says.

With the tree pollen season hitting at least two weeks early, Max's allergist, Dr. George Gottlieb, says your best bet is to prevent that inflammation before it sets in.

For most of us, Dr. Gottlieb says, an over-the-counter allergy medication will do the trick.

"And starting a little bit earlier is so much better than waiting," Dr. Gottlieb says. "Once a person is really congested, once they're having a lot of problems, it's harder to reverse the symptoms."

For a running nose and itchy eyes, try an antihistamine like Claritan, Zyrtec or Allegra.  There are also generic versions of the drugs.

For nasal congestion, try a steroid nasal spray or nasal decongestant.

Gottlieb says it helps to use the medication before you head outdoors.

"So if someone is going to mow the law, you're going to have a much better effect taking the Allegra first, before they go out to mow the lawn," he says. "Once they're already congested from all the pollens stirred up by mowing, they're not going to have as good an effect."

If you're outside, shower and wash off the pollen when you get home. 

Then, throw your clothes in the wash.

And, Gottlieb says, resist the urge to open up your windows and let the warmer air in.

"This time of year, everyone wants to open the windows," Gottlieb says.  "But really it's better to keep them closed. You don't need any special filters,  But, not bringing air in, for instance, with an attic fan, and keeping the windows closed, it really does make a difference."

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