There may be a dusting of truth to allergy sufferers' complaints that this season is, well, a bigger headache than years past.
Warnings for a difficult season have come from allergy specialists from New York to Atlanta, Chicago to California.
"This past week has been one of the worst ever," rasped Lynne Ritchie, 70, as she bought allergy medicine this week at a Manhattan drugstore.
Dr. Stanley Schwartz hears that from patients all the time — every year, in fact, he noted with a wry smile.
"Literally, every year is the worst year," said Schwartz, chief of allergy and rheumatology for Kaleida Health and the University at Buffalo. "Now it may actually be, but when it's there and you're feeling it, you don't remember what last year was like."
Pollen counts and allergy attacks vary widely from region to region, locality to locality and day to day, and no one entity tracks the full complexity of their ups and downs across the country. This year, though, signs really do point to a particularly prickly season.
At Holy Name Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., allergy director Dr. Theodore Falk told The Record newspaper that tree pollen "just exploded" last week because of a cool spring.
A sampling from the National Allergy Bureau's tracking website showed high pollen counts in several cities this week, including Albany and New York City, with their birch, oak and maple trees, and Oxford, Ala., where walnut, pine and willows are in bloom. The bureau is part of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
"It's been a very bad season so far. ... A lot of people suffering," said Dr. William Reisacher, director of the allergy center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
"A lot of people who haven't suffered in previous years have come in for the first time in several years with symptoms," he said, noting that the Northeast's sudden change from cold, snowy winter to warm spring has worsened the situation.
Medications used in the past may not be as effective if symptoms are worse this year, Reisacher said. Many of his patients in New York have required multiple drugs, including nasal sprays, oral antihistamines and eye drops.
Despite anecdotal evidence, it's difficult to determine whether this year is really worse than previous years, said Angel Waldron, spokeswoman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, which plans to tabulate pollen counts for cities later in the season.
But in general, she said, allergy seasons have been getting longer and more challenging.
"We do know that climate change and warmer temperatures are allowing trees to pollinate longer than usual," she said. "Although people feel things are worse than ever before, it's actually because of the longer season. It's a longer time to endure."
Though medication can help, there are other ways to lessen the misery.
Reisacher tells patients to shower and change clothes after coming inside and not to toss clothes worn outside onto the bed. Tree pollen is sticky and tends to linger on fabric, skin and hair.
He also advises shutting bedroom windows before bedtime to prevent pollen from invading in the early morning. Pollen counts are highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Kristen Fennimore of New Egypt, N.J., counts herself among the than 35 million Americans plagued by seasonal allergic rhinitis — also known as hay fever, a condition characterized by sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose and the telltale itchiness in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes or ears.
Until recently, the 28-year-old legal assistant said, she was feeling pretty good and thought she might get off easy this year. But pride goes before a fall.
"I was going around bragging how my allergies weren't bad this year," she said. "Then this week, it's been horrible."