Chattanooga routinely ranks in the top 20 cities for spring and fall allergies, according to the national Asthma and Allergy Foundation
Highest February pollen counts during past five years:
Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau
February has been rough for Chattanooga-area allergy sufferers in recent years, with warmer winter weather coaxing trees to bloom sooner.
Air pollution control bureau Director Bob Colby said the warming trend could cause hay fever season to arrive early.
"You're going to have the same amount of pollen," Colby said. "It's just going to be the timing of pollen may change."
Allergist Marc Cromie, M.D., with the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic, has already had an influx of patients.
"Last Thursday and Friday we saw a huge amount of new-patient appointments made," he said. "We definitely see a big increase in people calling for appointments, so that means there's something out there."
Craig Walker, plant doctor at The Barn Nursery in Chattanooga, said native red maples are in bloom now.
"I have noticed that most of the red maples have been or are now blooming," he said.
This year, though, February has been easier on those with pollen-sensitive noses.
According to figures from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, the past month had the second-lowest pollen count in five years.
"We're not really running as high as we have been," bureau spokeswoman Amber Boles said.
The 2013 February pollen count peaked one day at 271, which is a fraction of the 2012 count of 1,375 and 2011's peak of 1,212. The pollen count is the number of pollen grains in a cubic meter of air.
The year 2012 was the hottest on record for the lower 48 states, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in January.
Some plants used in landscaping, such as holly bushes, have smaller flowers that don't release as much pollen, said Anne Smith, nursery manager at the Holcomb Garden Center in Fort Oglethorpe. But pollen grains are a fact of life.
"They're still going to get you," said Smith.
Smith used to suffer from allergies, but she thinks that continued exposure over the years has built up her immunity. She said a young co-worker relies on daily doses of Claritin allergy medication.
"He suffers horribly from allergies," she said.
Smith's co-worker isn't alone. According to Cromie, 25 percent of American households have someone who suffers from allergic rhinitis.
Cromie says fighting allergies starts with the fundamentals -- prevention and avoidance.
"Even though it's warming up, [don't] open up the windows and allow the evil enemy inside," he said.
Cromie also recommends wiping down pets with a damp towel or even using a lint roller to remove pollen from their coats.
Finally, he added, break out the medications.
"Start the medicines now that you typically take when you're miserable ... using it a week or two before the season actually begins will minimize your symptoms a whole lot more than waiting until you're sick," Cromie said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.