Spring pollen season has arrived for allergy sufferers. If you're sneezing, itchy and congested this time of year, you are not alone.

Pollen counts have now reached the extremely high category, but they have not peaked yet.

At the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, they take the pollen count five days a week to track the levels in our area.

Each year, those counts peak in the thousands.

A rotorod sampler collects pollen from the air.

"We take the rod off the sampler the next morning, take it in, put it underneath a microscope, stain it with a stain so we can see the pollen, and then we actually do a count, a physical count," Kathy Jones, Air Monitoring Manager at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, explained.

The typical peak for spring tree pollen starts at the end of March and extends through the middle of April.

Last year, March 28th was the first day with a pollen count over 1000, so we are due for the pollen explosion soon.

"Of course if it rains a lot, that will delay it, but if the weather stays nice, then we should be hitting the big bloom very shortly," Jones said.         

Seven days had pollen counts over 1000 in 2018, including one day over 4000.

The yellow pollen that covers our cars is heavier pine pollen, which does not cause allergy problems.

The pollen that we cannot see causes the trouble.

"Peak pollen is worse in the morning. The trees release their pollen first thing in the morning, and that's when the pollen counts are high. Do your exercise outside in the afternoon when it is a little bit lower," Dr. Todd Levin, an allergist at the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic, advised.

To further minimize your exposure, you should shower at night to remove pollen before getting into bed.      

Daily maintenance medication of antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays is helpful. Antihistamines work fast, while nasal steroids take a couple of days to reach full efficacy.

Certain citruses can make antihistamines less effective.

There is an especially strong relationship between grapefruit and the medication Allegra. Eating grapefruits or drinking grapefruit juice will significantly decrease its efficacy.

"Allergy shots or immunotherapy is more of a long-term approach to really getting to a potential cure. The medicines are great, but they are a bandaid," Dr. Levin stated.

The shots provide a cure from the inside out.

For those who eat local honey to help with allergies, Dr. Levin explained that honey bees typically pick up nectar and pollen from flowers, but pollen transported by the wind causes most allergies. The bees then store the pollen for food for later.

"The honey is made from nectar, so there is really no pollen in it at all, and there is really no allergenic pollen in it. So while honey is delicious and nutritious and helpful for a variety of other things, it is not really going to help allergies," said Dr. Levin.
 
The Air Pollution Control Bureau releases a daily pollen and air quality report five days a week. It lists the individual, highest pollen types, so you can better track your known allergens if they're elevated for the day.