12 Worst Cities for Allergy Sufferers

By Katherine Butler, Mother Nature Network

The season for sneezin’

It starts with a tickle in your throat. Then your eyes start watering like a sprinkler system on a hot day. As you reach for a tissue, you notice birds singing from their nests as freshly bloomed flowers bob in the sunlight. Spring has sprung, and it has kicked your allergies into high gear.

And it turns out, you’re not alone. Americans are experiencing one of the worst allergy seasons in years. Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist in New York City, told the Wall Street Journal, “If we tabulated our phone records and compared [allergy complaints] quantitatively to the previous eight or nine years, we’re seeing a volume of at least three to four times greater a day.” So where are the worst spots for allergy sufferers? Here are the 12 worst U.S. cities out of 100 ranked by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) for allergy sufferers for the 2011 spring season.

12. Greensboro, N.C.

Greensboro, N.C., population 245,776, scores an 87.24 out of 100 points in the AAFA’s assessment. The AAFA rankings are based on analysis of data from factors including prevalence data, seasonal pollen, allergy medicine utilization per patient, and the number of board-certified allergists per patient. Weights were applied to each factor and a composite final score was calculated for each Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Greensboro’s pollen and mold levels are considered “average,” while the amount of patients utilizing their medication is “worse than average.” It also has an “average” amount of board-certified allergists per patient. Greensboro ranked #7 in last year’s AAFA rankings.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Columbia, South Carolina

11. Columbia, S.C.

Columbia, S.C., population 126,193, scores an 87.38 on the AAFA scale. Allergy sufferers continue to get the short end of the tissue in Columbia, as the city scores “worse than average” on both pollen/mold levels and the amount of patients utilizing their medication. On the upside, it scores an “average” rating on the amount of board-certified allergists per patient. Columbia is up one spot from its ranking of #12 from last year. The AAFA’s Spring Allergy Capitals shows that, as a nation, more allergy sufferers are relying on over-the-counter medications for the first time in its nine-year report.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

10. Madison, Wis.

Madison, population 229,051, scores an 87.51 from the AAFA. Like Columbia, S.C., Madison is “worse than average” on both pollen/mold levels and the amount of patients utilizing their medication. Likewise, Madison receives an “average” rating on the amount of allergists to patients. Madison is also up one slot from last year, when it had a #11 ranking. Experts report that citizens are feeling the effects. Dr. Brent Kooistra is a pediatric allergist in Madison. As he told WISC-TV of Madison, “There’s a fair amount of mold in the air, especially with dampness, and the dampness and vegetation creates the nice feeding ground for the mold spores, but then the tree pollens have been hitting hard … too.”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

McAllen, TX

9. McAllen, Texas

McAllen, Texas, population 126,090, scores an 88.79 on the AAFA scale. While it rates “average” pollen and mold scores, it earns a “worse than average” for both medicine utilization per patient and board-certified allergists per patient. Further, it has climbed the chart significantly from its rating last year, which was #25. In 2009, the AAFA ranked McAllen as the worst city to live in for fall allergies. As Newsweek reports, McAllen received this dubious distinction in 2009 because of “the fact that the city, at the southern tip of Texas, has lots of pollen, high humidity, and almost no freezing weather.”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Richmond, Va

8. Richmond, Va.
Richmond, Va., population 200,976, has a rating of 88.94 from the AAFA. It suffers “worse than average” ratings on pollen and mold, with “average” ratings for medicine utilization per patient and board-certified allergists per patient. Last year, it was ranked at #13.

Experts urge caution when pollen counts are high. Dr. Murray Grossan, an ear, nose and throat physician, told WebMD, if you go outside during a high pollen count, “as soon as you arrive home, rinse out your nose with saline to remove pollen still in your nose.” Further, avoid outdoor exercise from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. or at dusk. These are when the pollen counts can be the highest.

7. Dayton, Ohio

Dayton, Ohio, population 155,781, gets an 89.14 from the AAFA. The city experiences “worse than average” pollen and mold counts, with an “average” medicine utilization per patient. However, the board-certified allergists per patient are “worse than average.” But the citizens of Dayton have one thing to celebrate: last year, the city ranked fourth on this list.

6. Birmingham, Ala.

Birmingham, Ala., population 231,486, receives a rating of 89.17 from the AAFA. The city has “average” pollen and mold scores, as well as board-certified allergists per patient. However, they do have a “worse than average” score on medicine utilization per patient. Last year, Birmingham ranked #15 in the scoring.

Just what are allergies? They are defined as an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign protein, or allergen that is experienced by the body. The AAFA defines allergy reactions as ”coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and scratchy throat. In severe cases it can also result in rashes, hives, lower blood pressure, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and even death.”

5. Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chattanooga, Tenn., population 169,243, rates a 89.28 from the AAFA. Like Birmingham, the city has “average” pollen and mold scores, as well as board-certified allergists per patient. It also has a “worse than average” score on medicine utilization per patient. The city is up two spots from its rating last year.

For allergy sufferers, there’s a genetic component, according to the AAFA. If one parent has allergies, a child’s chances are one in three that he or she will have allergies. If both parents are afflicted, then a child has a seven in 10 chance of having an allergic reaction.

Image credit: jeffgunn/Flickr

Jackson, Mississippi

4.  Jackson, Miss.
Jackson, Miss., population 176,799, scores a 91.65 on the AAFA scale. The city has a “worse than average” score on medicine utilization per patient, while scoring an “average” pollen and mold scores, as well as for board-certified allergists per patient. In 2010, the city ranked #8.

Allergies are the fifth-leading chronic disease in the United States. “An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies (one in five Americans) including indoor/outdoor, food and drug, latex, insect, skin and eye allergies,” according to the AAFA.

Charlotte, N.C.

3. Charlotte, N.C.

Charlotte, N.C., population 669,064, scores a 92.24 from the AAFA. The city has “worse than average” scores for pollen and mold count, medicine utilization per patient, and board-certified allergists per patient. In 2010, the city ranked fifth. Geography and weather certainly has a strong hand in determining a city’s pollen count. “In Southern regions, where the growing season starts early in the year, spring allergies can begin in January,” according to Fox Charlotte.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2. Louisville, Ky.
Louisville, Ky., population 256,231, rates a 94.25 from the AAFA. The city has an “average” rating for pollen and mold scores and board-certified allergists per patient, as well as a “worse than average” rating for medicine utilization per patient. Its position in the ratings did not change from 2010. Dr. Barbara S. Isaacs, an allergist in Louisville, told Louisville.com, that it’s Louisville’s high pollen count that is to blame. According to Isaacs, “The biggest thing is tree pollen, with grass pollen coming close behind.” She urges the use of air filters to help cut down on symptoms.

Knoxville, Tenn.
1. Knoxville, Tenn.

Knoxville, Tenn., population 173, 890, takes the top ranking with a 100 out of 100 rating from the AAFA. The city scores a “worse than average” rating in both the pollen and mold ratings and in medicine utilization per patient. However, it has an “average” rating in board-certified allergists per patient. Last year, Knoxville again had the dubious distinction of ranking first. Most blame the abundance of trees, flowers and plants in the area. Mary Gail Anderson, a registered nurse at Vanderbilt Children’s hospital in Nashville, told the Tennessee Journalist, “the high pollen counts in Tennessee are really upping the number of runny noses and scratchy throats [in patients].”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Susanne R.
Susanne R.3 years ago

Tennessee appears to be a good place to avoid if you have allergies and/or asthma!

Lee Jones
Freda Lee J.3 years ago

Would be fascinated to see a list such as this compiled for global cities - not just the States! But interesting nonetheless thanks!

Abbe A.
Azaima A.4 years ago

good to know

Matilda H.
Past Member 4 years ago

Interesting indeed, thanks!

Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun4 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Patricia Y.
Patricia Y.4 years ago

Interesting. Thanks.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson4 years ago

Wow! I also was surprised to see so many in the SE.....surprised L.A. wasn't in the top of the list!

John K.
John K.4 years ago

I find it most interesting that all of the cities are in the South, except Dayton OH, and if you don't consider Virginia a Southern State, then you'd have to include Richmond. So in conclusion, Southern Living is Allergic Living.

Mrs M.
mrs m.4 years ago


Zee Kallah
.4 years ago

I'm grateful that I don't have allergies. If I start getting a cold or what might be an allergy I just do my Vitamin C routine. I'm ok next day.