Newswise — With record-setting snowfall and wet weather in the region this winter, one question comes to mind for many as spring approaches: how bad will my allergies be?

While you look forward to the end of frigid cold snaps and storms that could dump feet of snow, along with more daylight and warmer temperatures come the dreaded itchy eyes, sneezing, and scratchy ears and throat, all symptoms of allergies.

“The severity of allergy symptoms will depend on the weather,” said Dr. Catherine Monteleone, an associate professor of medicine at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a board-certified allergist. “We’ve had a lot of wet weather, so mold, for example, may be pretty high. Symptom severity will also depend upon how dry the weather is this spring.”

Symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, ears and throat, wheezing and shortness of breath can begin as early as February, so, for some, spring allergies may already have arrived.

Tree pollen blown around by the wind is the allergen people will react to first this season, sometimes before you see the buds, Monteleone explained. “If we end up with windy dry days, it can be pretty bad,” she said.

Allergy sufferers may continue to experience symptoms into May and June, a reaction to grass pollen, not blooming flowers, Monteleone added.

Recent findings from a study out of Italy indicate that climate change may be extending pollen seasons, resulting in an increase in the duration of allergy season. “That’s something to worry about with an increase in the average temperature,” Monteleone said.

The best coping strategy for allergy sufferers is to start their medications early, before symptoms become severe. “That’s the big thing,” Monteleone said. “Get ready now because there may be a trial period to help you determine what works best for you.”

Monteleone emphasizes another key point: avoid irritants such as tobacco smoke or strong perfumes. And during spring, “Keep windows closed, in the car and at home, and, if necessary, keep the air conditioner on,” Monteleone said. “If you have to be outside, wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from pollen; do activities later in the day, because pollen is released early,” she added, “and, when you return home, shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes because the pollen will stick to you.”

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with nearly 5,700 students attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty practices at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a statewide mental health and addiction services network.