Why this spring is a perfect storm for allergies

Pollen is expected to pile up early this year, making for a longer and more miserable allergy season. Higher temperatures, more rain and El Niño winds may contribute to a perfect storm for allergies.

Experts believe climate change is to blame for making allergy season last about three weeks longer, and it's also becoming more intense.

"Allergenic plants are very receptive to those changes, so we're seeing robust plant growth and pollen growth and this translates into high pollen counts and terrible seasons all around," Dr. Neeta Ogden, an allergist and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, told "CBS This Morning."

What pollens are prevalent during which seasons, and how are climate factors affecting them? Ogden says these are the main factors to watch out for:

Spring: Tree pollen (starting earlier this year)

Summer: Grass (will linger longer)

Fall: Ragweed (will grow faster)

Even if you're susceptible to nasty allergies, Ogden said there are ways to prepare ahead in order to better control the symptoms.

"People should be armed and ready," she said.

If you know you have seasonal allergies, visit your allergist well before your allergy season hits and have your medications in place.

Be aware that symptoms may be worse than in years past, including asthma or skin reactions to pollen.

An allergy-fighting arsenal can include:

  • Use of air conditioning instead of keeping windows open.
  • Showering before bedtime to rinse off pollen.
  • Washing eyes and eyelids to remove pollen.
  • Avoiding outdoor exercise on high pollen days.
  • Immunotherapy, including allergy shots and sublingual tablets (which melt under the tongue), can especially help people with year-round seasonal allergies or those who don't do well on medicines.

Talk with your doctor about a rescue inhaler and other stronger medication options if you struggle with serious allergies and/or asthma.

"To be prepared and have everything at your disposal is really the number one step, and to control your exposure," said Ogden.

She also noted that certain parts of the country get hit hardest. Southerners beware, warns Ogden, because states in the south have the most ideal conditions for pollen. The worst cities for allergies include Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee, Syracuse, New York, Louisville, Kentucky, and McAllen, Texas, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

"They have sustained warm temperatures. They have sustained sunlight, humidity, and they have a great diversity of pollen-producing plants so that creates that pollen storm that makes people so miserable," Ogden said.

Seasonal allergies are also sometimes called allergic rhinitis or hay fever, and they affect millions. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19.1 million adults and 6.1 million children have hay fever. Symptoms can range from sneezing, stuffiness, and a runny nose to itchiness in your nose, the roof of your mouth, throat, eyes or ears.

Symptoms occur when the immune system thinks pollen is an invader. Your immune system tries to fight off the enemy and overreacts by making antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals that cause the allergic reaction.

Why are some people more susceptible to allergies than others? "There's a huge genetic component with allergies. So if your parent, one parent, has allergies, you have up to a 50 percent chance more likelihood of having allergies yourself. Both parents, that goes up to 70 percent," Ogden explained.

But in the "new normal" environment, allergists are seeing more adults in their 50s and 60s coming in for the first time with allergy complaints.

Next week is World Allergy Week and the theme is "Pollen Change: Adapting to a Changing Climate."