Achoo! The Worst Cities for Spring Allergy Sufferers

Experts list the most challenging cities to live in with spring allergies.

ByABC News
September 17, 2008, 3:04 PM

April 15, 2008 — -- It is officially springtime. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and green things are -- yikes! -- blooming once again.

While many look forward to a fresh season, those with allergies may approach springtime with caution and Kleenex. And they might suffer even more because of their location.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America released its annual list of the Top 100 most challenging places to live with spring allergies for 2008 last week.

The AAFA used pollen counts and medication utilization data from last year and the number of board-certified allergists per patient in an area to rank the 100 largest cities in the country.

These criteria counterbalanced each other, according to Mike Tringale, director of external affairs for the AAFA. When the pollen count or medication usage is very high, a city will move up in the ranks. However, if there is a large number of allergists available to treat those affected, the city's ranking will drop.

Tringale said that this is the AAFA's sixth year creating this report and that they look at the same 100 cities each year.

"We definitely see regional consistency," Tringale said, adding that cities in the Southeast are hit hardest with allergies in the spring while fall allergies are worse in the Northeast.

Though the AAFA takes three specific criteria into account when ranking cities, allergists point out that factors such as rainfall, winds and indoor allergens can contribute to allergies. Allergies have become the third most common disease of childhood, according to Beth Miller, division chief of allergy and immunology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

"You have to have the right genetic potential, the right exposure," Miller said. "But there are lots of things allergists can do to improve your life."

While allergists agree that the best course of action for a person with allergies is avoidance, that is not always a viable option. In those cases, working with an allergist to get proper treatment, like allergy medications or immunotherapy, is vital.

The following are the Top 10 most allergy ridden cities to live in from the AAFA's annual list.

"I think each city has its own allergic issues," Wasserman said.

Olive trees, for example, are large pollen producers for the area that is not seen in other parts of the country, Wasserman said.

Though the city scored average for pollen, high medication use and a low allergist-to-patient ratio kept Little Rock in the AAFA's Top 10 cities where living with allergies can be challenging.

"The low allergist number is still due to the storm," said Felicia Rabito, clinical associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "Our health-care infrastructure is not back after the storm."

New Orleans is a humid, semitropical climate with many indoor and outdoor allergens. But after the storms, with many properties left to fester, overgrowing weeds and grasses in many parts of the city may have contributed to New Orleans' rank this year.

Rabito is part of an ongoing study to determine whether people who are not normally allergic are now becoming allergic to the increased number of allergens.

But with more green spaces per capita than any other city in the country, it is no wonder that living with allergies in Birmingham can be a challenge. The city had high pollen counts, high incidence of medicine use and a low allergist-to-patient ratio.

Knoxville had an average pollen score as well as an average number of allergists in the area. However, the medication utilization score was very high, greater than the average usage, which, according to the AAFA, averages two types of medication per person.

The city had both high rates of pollen and medicine utilization in the past year, according to the AAFA's report.

Augusta adapted the motto "we feel good" and erected a statue downtown in honor of soul singer James Brown who made his home here. However, allergy sufferers in Augusta may identify more with Brown's music than his message.

According to the AAFA report, Johnson City had a below-average rate of medicine utilization compared to the other cities on the list, although their pollen counts and number of allergists were average.

While there is an average number of allergists in the city, Greensboro had high pollen counts as well as high rates of medication utilization.

In addition, the weather around Lexington this year -- early warm weather without a frost -- may have also contributed to the high pollen count.

But Miller said Lexington, with its mild winters, is a very good place to live, climatewise. And since the severity in winter can vary from year to year, Miller added that taking an average pollen count over several years might have been more accurate.

"Just because you have allergies doesn't mean you can't live in Lexington," Miller said.