DENVER - If it's spring time in the Rockies, bring out the tissues.
Linda Church has lived in the foothills above Denver her entire life, but even for a native this year is tough on the sinuses.
''I sneezed so hard the other day in the parking lot that a lady came up to me and said, 'I've never heard anything like that. I have to say bless you,''' she said.
''Actually, I sneeze louder than anyone I've ever known,'' said Church, 50, manager of a Denver administrative support company. ''This is the worst I've seen it in five years.''
Architect Marlo Grabsztul, 25, said, ''When I went out for bagels this morning people thought I was crying and asked me if everything was OK.
''I'm one of those people from back East who moved out here and the air is so much cleaner. This is the first year I've had problems,'' said Grabsztul, a five-year resident.
From the Southwest deserts to the central and southern Rockies, residents are paying in sneezes, itchy eyes and clogged noses as allergy season moves into high gear for a second consecutive mild winter.
''It's been pretty intense. We've had lots of nice weather and that means pollen problems as early as February. And we haven't had much cold weather or rain to ground it since then,'' said Dr. Robert Nathan, a Colorado Springs allergy specialist.
''On a scale from 1 to 10, I think Arizona is about an 8, so it is pretty bad,'' said allergist Dr. Gary Waddington in Phoenix. ''We have gotten just enough rain in the spring to produce an extensive allergy season, as well as a lot of wind, which stirs up the pollens.''
Cheyenne, Wyo., allergist Lakhman Gondalia estimates his Allergy & Chest Clinic has seen a 25 percent increase in patients over normal numbers.
Duane Harris of the Intermountain Allergy and Asthma Clinic in West Valley City, Utah, last week measured pollen from mulberry and sycamore trees at 1,269 and 40, respectively, with anything above 50 considered extreme.
More problems are expected soon from maple, box elder, cedar, walnut, birch, oak, cottonwood and aspen trees, and grass and mold, which are now at moderate levels, Harris said.
Pollen counts in the Four Corners area are the highest in five years, said Durango allergy specialist Dr. Don Cooke. He said juniper trees produce pollen in cycles, and this year is the peak of the cycle.
''With such dry, warm weather, and the high winds we've seen this spring, the pollen can travel many miles. And it's this juniper pollen that seems to get the immune system so fired up,'' Cooke said.
Waddington, of the Phoenix clinic, said thousands of people moved to Arizona for its dry, healthy climate, but the trees they have planted have changed things.
''Now we are worse than most of the places in the country and we did it to ourselves,'' he said.
Joy Poole, 66, a life-long allergy sufferer, moved to Phoenix in 1953 from Ashville, N.C., to escape allergic reactions she had to snow and cold weather. She has been seeing allergists for more than 50 years.
''This has been the worst allergy season I have seen in a long time. I have had to be on more intense medications, just to get me through until now. Usually I am just miserable, to the point that I can't garden, which is something I love doing,'' she said.
Poole and Church both take prescription drugs to try to control their allergies.
To alleviate problems, allergy specialists say sufferers should take prescription medications because they are less sedating than over-the-counter drugs; avoid sleeping with windows open because most pollen is released in the morning; and take showers and change clothes before going to bed to remove pollen from their body and hair.