Editor’s note: This is the first in a 2 part series.

Spring is in the air and, as a result, your eyes are red, itchy and watery. You sneeze every 60 seconds, your nose is streaming, and your sinuses feel like lead.

Welcome to the Ohio Valley!

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America does a survey each year to identify the most challenging city in the U.S. for allergy sufferers to live and nearby Louisville ranked second on the list this year. Many long-time residents can attest to that high ranking following annual run-ins with the Ohio Valley “crud,” as the frequent bouts of respiratory-related illnesses are often called.

If you suffer from allergies, what are your options for relief " short of locking yourself in a bio-bubble?

Many people are convinced that honey relieves their allergy symptoms. The theory is that the bees which travel from flower to flower transfer some of the pollen stuck to their little legs to their honey. By eating the honey, people ingest small amounts of local pollen and gradually tolerance to the allergens will be built by the gradual exposure.

According to P.J. Thompson, who works at Rainbow Blossom, an organic food store in Louisville, the honey needs to be local"so that it will contain the local pollens you’re sensitive to"and uncooked, or raw, because the heat of the pasteurization process kills the digestive and anti-allergenic enzymes.

Additionally, Mr. Thompson, said the timing of the honey diet is also important.

“You want to start using the honey one-to-two months ahead of your allergy season,” he said. Because people are allergic to different pollens, some will suffer in the springtime, others later in the year.

Brian Barnes, a professor at the University of Louisville and Bellermine University, agreed with Mr. Thompson. Mr. Barnes consumed raw honey and saw a definite decline in his symptoms. Initially, he pursued his regimen fairly aggressively, but now he uses raw honey without much intention, just adding it to other foods he enjoys. He still uses honey several times a week and his symptoms are much better.

Mr. Thompson has the word of his many customers who claim success with honey"as well as his own experience. Born in the Ohio Valley, he had no allergies when he moved to Florida as a young adult. While living there, he developed full-blown allergy symptoms triggered by a flowering tree. When he returned to Louisville, he began treating himself with raw honey for his now perennial hay fever. After six months, his allergy symptoms were much better. Now Mr. Thompson said he has virtually no allergic symptoms. He, too, continues to use raw honey to flavor other foods.

Dr. Joe Turbyville, chief of the allergy clinic at Fort Knox’s Ireland Army Community Hospital, said he is skeptical about the benefit of honey for allergy symptoms. He has several reasons to support his skepticism.

Primarily, Dr. Turbyville said most allergy-inducing plants are not high on a bee’s visitation route. Most of the guilty plants"like ragweed and trees"are pollinated by wind and have no bright flowers, which is what bees find so attractive. The pollen most likely to be found in honey is that from the flowers, he said.

Secondly, the route of pollen introduction"by mouth"isn’t usually very helpful. Dr. Turbyville said studies have been done that showed oral immunotherapy"swallowing pills"wasn’t very effective. That’s why allergy treatments are generally injections given under the skin.

Thirdly, Dr. Turbyville said there have been very few scientific studies on the link between honey and allergies, but one study showed little evidence to support the claim. In that study, three groups of allergy sufferers were tested; one group was given commercially-produced honey, a second group received raw honey, and a third group got corn syrup flavored to taste like honey. There were no differences in the symptoms for each group, so the scientists concluded that the honey had no effect on allergy symptoms.

Others dispute the study by saying that there are differences in honey and the pollen it contains. Honey made in the spring contains spring pollen and wouldn’t help someone suffering from fall allergens. Logically enough, the honey bees made in the fall contains pollen from those plants that bloom or produce allergens in the fall and so wouldn’t be helpful to those allergic to spring-blooming plants. In addition, the study was a very small sample (approximately 40 people), so honey supporters claim the study falls short.

No matter your persuasion, Dr. Turbyville said he understands why people are reluctant to resort to medications for their allergies. He dislikes the “pill for every ill” methodology and rarely takes medications himself.

“I don’t believe any harm could be caused by taking honey, so if people want to try honey as a way to relieve allergy symptoms, I have no objections,” he said. “It can’t hurt you to try.”

Next week: More about allergies.