Allergy season is here -- and it's here with a vengeance.

I've had patients who never had allergies before start experiencing them this year for the first time -- and if you've got the sniffles yourself, you already know exactly what they're going through.

Thanks to a mild winter in most of the country, pollen was out in force earlier than ever -- and new CDC numbers show just how much we're suffering.

In March, close to 20 percent of people surveyed by the agency reported allergy symptoms. That compares to less than 15 percent in 2010 and 16.5 percent in 2011.

The numbers were so high the agency said they matched what we normally see this month, in May.

And in April, the allergy reports were up about 10 percent over the previous year.

Those numbers confirm what I've seen in my practice, as more people show up with allergies than ever before -- including many who say they've never had so much as a sniffle in the past.

But let's face reality here. Most people don't even bother telling their doctors about allergies. It's just too easy to go to the store and pick up an over-the-counter antihistamine.

Plenty of people take them, and some even swear by them. But they're expensive, don't work for everyone, and come with a potential for side effects ranging from dry mouth to drowsiness.

There are much better ways to beat allergies for good and help you breathe easy all year long. Here at my Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine, for example, we use homeopathic remedies to desensitize people to the pollens causing their symptoms.

It's so much easier -- not to mention safer -- than allergy shots.

The homeopathic remedies allium cepa and/or nux vomica can help with the classic hay fever symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose. For symptoms more in your eyes, I recommend a homeopathic remedy made from the eyebright plant, called euphrasia.

In addition, butterbur supplements have shown in studies to be as effective as some of the top-selling over-the-counter allergy remedies, but at a fraction of the price.