It’s chilly, trees are still bare and flowers are far from budding, but people’s allergies are beginning to act up. Michael Sandberg is an allergy sufferer who just returned to Iowa from vacation. His allergies attacked the moment he got off the plane.

“I have a runny nose, watery eyes and congestion,” Sandberg said. “I’m nasally, full and the normal seasonal allergies are in play.” Allergist Holly Brown of Allergy Partners of Cedar Rapids says it’s not uncommon for people to begin sneezing this time of year – even with the snow and cold temperatures.

“It is almost April. People feel like allergy season is early this year, but actually, it’s pretty much on time. We’re just having a bit of unseasonably cool weather,” Brown said. Brown and other allergists say they see more and more patients every year. Overuse of hand sanitizers and soap could be part of the problem. Brown says some scientists believe killing off all bacteria all the time has weakened people’s immune system.

“In Third World countries, they don’t have allergies. In industrialized countries, we have lots of allergies,” Brown said. “We see lots of new patients every year. So, definitely, it’s something on the rise.” Allegra, a popular allergy medication prescribed by doctors, just became over-the-counter. The move makes the drug easier to get for some, but in some cases, also more costly because insurance companies are less likely to cover Allegra.

By Mark Geary, KCRG, Cedar Rapids