Trees, grass and flowering plants reawaken in the spring, and as part of their reproductive cycle, send pollen into the air.
The Early Show medical contributor Dr. Emily Senay said that some of the pollen enters our bodies and is recognized by our immune systems as a foreign substance, which causes antibodies to produce histamine to destroy the pollen. Histamine irritates the eyes and respiratory system.
Dr. Senay said that it's difficult to tell whether this spring will be a good or bad one for allergy sufferers, but there are some inexact ways to predict.
"Usually if you have a mild winter, a wet winter, you can start to experience symptoms probably earlier because the trees may get a head start," she said. "On the other hand, and this may be on our side this year, a very cold winter, a late, cold winter — that's what we've had in many parts of the country — may reduce the pollen counts."
Pollen doesn't affect everyone. Each person's immune system reacts differently depending on genetic tendencies. But for those who do suffer from allergies, Dr. Senay said there are many medications available from over-the-counter pills, eye drops and nasal sprays to prescription medications.
People with allergies can also take precautions to limit their exposure to pollen. For example, stay indoors in the morning when the pollen count is highest and run air conditioner, which can help filter the air. Avoid mowing the lawn and doing yard work and don't dry your clothes outdoors on a clothesline. Dr. Senay said to stay away other irritants like tobacco smoke, insect spray or heavy air pollution, which can exacerbate your allergies.
"In the evening when you come home, make sure you wash your hair, take a good shower, rinse the pollen off you," Dr. Senay said. "Don't get into bed with, you know, the pollen all over your body. It can be worse at night if you're not washing at the end of the day."