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Allergy sufferers, beware this spring's "pollen tsunami"

If you have itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose and an uncontrollable urge to sneeze, you're certainly not alone. Spring allergies are at a high right now, as tree pollen showers the Northeast in what some are calling a "pollen tsunami."

The reason it's so intense right now, experts say, is because of the wet, cold winter that pummeled the region this year. "Normally the tree pollen starts at the end of winter or the beginning of spring and then the grass pollen comes in May," said CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. "Now, it's been delayed and you're getting the tree pollen right now." So instead of creeping in slowly like most years, "it's just being dumped on you."

And there's even more bad news for allergy sufferers: things will most likely get worse. Because of the delay in the rise of tree pollen, it may be combined with grass pollen throughout May and even June, LaPook said.

What can a person do about it? In addition to over-the-counter or prescription allergy medication, there are some practical steps you can take to help reduce allergy symptoms. LaPook recommends wearing a hat and sunglasses when going outside. "The more you can protect your face, the better," he said.

When you come back inside, take off your pollen-covered clothes immediately and take a shower. "Think about it in your mind's eye, your head is like a mop, and there's this invisible pollen that's there," LaPook explained. "If you could see it, you'd get freaked out." Each time you shake or touch your head, your face is being showered with pollen that can get into your eyes, nose, and mouth. Rinsing your eyes and using a saline spray to wash out your nose can also be helpful to reduce allergy symptoms.

LaPook also advises people with allergies to stay away from pollen when they see it. "Your instinct may be to sweep it away," he said. "You may want to do that with a wet mop if there's nobody around, but what's better is to find somebody who's not allergic and have them clean it up. The last thing you want to do is have it blowing."

Finally, check your area's pollen count daily to determine how bad conditions may be. "If you go into your app store and search for pollen counters, you'll see a bunch of them," LaPook said. "And they all said the same thing to me, which is 'this is a bad day.'"