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The Pollen Section

America’s Top 10 Spring Allergy Capitals: 2012

The Top 10*

1.     Knoxville, Tenn.
2.     McAllen, Tex.
3.     Louisville, Ky.
4.     Jackson, Miss.
5.     Wichita, Kans.
6.     Oklahoma City, Okla.
7.     Chattanooga, Tenn.
8.     Memphis, Tenn.
9.     San Antonio, Tex.
10.   Dayton, Ohio

Three times is not a charm at all for Knoxville, Tennessee. For the third time in as many years, this East Tennessee city has earned the dubious distinction of being America’s No. 1 spring allergy capital, according to rankings from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). McAllen, Texas was the runner-up while Louisville, Kentucky took third place.

In Knoxville, the problem starts with the stately oak, maple and elm trees that abound around this city of some 179,000 residents. They contribute to the lush beauty of the region but pollen scores from male trees are “way ahead of the rest of the country,” and are a main ingredient in the “perfect storm” of spring allergies, says Angel Waldron, a spokesperson for AAFA.

Easing the Pain

Lack of ready access to treatment makes the situation worse. In the spring, there’s often a long wait to see an allergy specialist in Knoxville, adding to the misery of local residents. There’s also mounting use of allergy medications at this time of year.

Local allergists like Dr. Robert Overholt have developed initiatives to ease the suffering. They provide daily pollen counts to news outlets, hold health fairs and frequently comment in the media on the best ways to treat allergies. Overholt says these include: avoiding exposure to pollen as much as possible, using prescription sprays or over-the-counter antihistamines and, for some people, getting allergy shots.

Planning for the spring allergy season is important, agrees Waldron. “If residents are prepared, there’s no reason why they should live in a lovely city and not be able to get out and enjoy it.”

Weather an Allergy Factor

The news that Knoxville is the worst city for spring allergies comes on the heels of another dismal year weatherwise. In 2011, a violent February storm that triggered flash floods across the region was followed by more than 20 tornados in the spring. And then Knoxville was also ranked the top U.S. city for fall allergies, typically triggered by ragweed.

Being the top spring allergy capital again should garner public attention – and this might not be a bad thing. “It isn’t a good title to have, but it encourages people to get educated about their environment and learn what they can do,”  says Waldron.

Knoxville isn’t the only allergen breeding ground in Tennessee. Chattanooga (No. 7) and Memphis (No. 8) also made this year’s Top 10. Several cities came from behind to make the list: San Antonio, Texas went from No. 42 last year to claim the No. 9 this year; and Oklahoma City jumped from 22 to 6.

This is the ninth year for the AAFA’s spring allergy rating. Data for the scores come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Board of Medical Specialties’ database and SDI, a health-care analytics company that collects pollen data.

For the complete list of spring allergy capitals, visit

* Rankings information is supplied courtesy of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

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