KINGSTON, ONT. -- Allergy sufferers say their symptoms have come on worse this year than ever before, and one specialist says it’s not just in your head.

"I get asked this every year because it always seems like this year is the worst year ever. This time I can tell you, yes, the pollen levels are definitely higher this year than they were last year," says Dr. Anne K. Ellis, Queen’s University professor and allergist.

Dr. Ellis says she’s heard from patients who have been saying their symptoms are worsening.

She explains tree pollen season got a head start this year, beginning in April, when it would usually begin in May.

The pollen levels coming off the trees are also more intense.

"On average, we've actually had fourfold to tenfold higher counts of Birch pollen this year than ever before," she explains.

Allergy sufferer Carine Rogers, who lives in Winchester, Ont., says everything in her own backyard makes her sick.

"My eyes get red, they get watery very itchy, I sneeze constantly, I’m constantly feeling like I’m congested, which is been great with COVID," Rogers says in an interview with CTV News Ottawa.

She says she definitely feels this year is different, and the symptoms have become more difficult to live with.

"I’ve been trying to go into nature trails but it’s been so bad that I need to stay close to home in case I need to go inside and take a break," explains Rogers.

Ellis says it’s too soon to tell why exactly this year’s pollen count is so high, but one reason for the shift in the allergy season may be climate change.

"It always has led to sort of an overlap between tree pollen season and grass pollen season, making May seem like a really bad month. This is the first year we've actually seen documented evidence of much higher pollen levels."

Ellis says areas throughout eastern Ontario have been particularly affected by the trend.

So that means those with multiple allergies have been left having a tough time.

Those like Ottawa resident Acacia Thibeau say it’s the first time in a decade she’s had to keep her inhaler close, and her allergies have been all the more difficult to handle under COVID-19 and physical distancing.

"As soon as I start coughing, because my cough sounds really bad because I’m asthmatic, everyone stares at me and moves away from me," she laughs. "Which I’m OK with but it’s not because I’m sick, I’m just really allergic to everything."

Ellis recommends getting a COVID-19 test if you do feel confused about what your symptoms are.

To alleviate symptoms day-to-day, Ellis suggests using anti-drowsy antihistamines. If the allergies are having a major impact on your life, she says to speak to a specialist for a treatment plan.

"I think just recognizing that, you know, yes, allergies are here to stay, don't suffer in silence. Ask to see an allergist and find relief," she says.