According to the Air Pollution Control Bureau, Thursday's tree pollen count is 121 to begin the spring season. This is in the "Extremely Heavy" category which starts at 120, keeping Chattanooga on the map as one of the allergy capitals of the country.

"We're #3 in the nation in allergy capitals in the spring," says Dr. Marc Cromie of the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic.

Peak season for outdoor allergies is upon us and Cromie says there's is an easy explanation as to why The Scenic City is near the top rank.

"We have a tremendous amount of pollinating species of trees in Chattanooga that's huge compared to anywhere in the United States," explains Cromie. "Anywhere in the world, actually."

Plus, the city lies in a valley making it easy to trap pollen. Shots and prescription medications can help some people but pollen is impossible to avoid here.

Kathy Windham learned this the hard way. After moving from eastern Alabama her allergies went from mild to wild almost immediately. This, on top of her asthma, was making it harder for her to do her gardening. But when it caused a serious health scare she decided to get help at the clinic a few years ago.

"It got to the point where I thought I had pneumonia and come right here and they checked that out," says Windham. "And my son said, Mom, you really need to get some help."

Windham's been on a treatment plan ever since and is doing great, even weaning herself almost completely off her inhaler.

"I'm getting some plants and heading out to work in my yard," says Windham with a big smile.

But what about people from Chattanooga or nearby areas who don't display typical allergy symptoms like constant coughing, sneezing, and itchy eyes until later in life? Cromie says for them it could just be a matter of time.

"Sub-therapeutically suffering for years. They've had symptoms, it just hasn't been terrible," says Cromie.

Symptoms possibly mistaken as a simple cold or sinus infection.

If you think you have outdoor allergies, Cromie urges you to see a specialist sooner rather than later.

"It's the beginning of the storm," states Cromie. "The pollen count, whether it's 100 or 500, is low compared to the way it's going to be."

He goes on to say that if you don't have insurance you can try over-the-counter medicines. There's a new one available called Nasacort which is a nasal spray. If you do have insurance but a visit to an allergy specialist scares you because of getting shots, Cromie says that the needles used for allergies are small and don't hurt much. He adds that, as an alternative, a tablet should become available by subscription beginning next month to treat grass and ragweed allergies which typically rise in the summer and fall, respectively.