Those who greet each autumn morning with a sneeze, a sniffle and some watery eyes might want to consider moving.
Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford are three of the 100 worst places in the country for fall allergies, according to a new report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
The 2013 Fall Allergy Capitals report ranks the most challenging places in the country to live with fall allergies, based on cities' pollen levels, residents' use of over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications and number of board-certified allergists. Hartford ranked as the nation's 53rd sneeziest city, New Haven was 62nd and Bridgeport was 66th.
That doesn't surprise Dr. Jacob Hen, chief of pediatric pulmonology at Bridgeport Hospital. Connecticut is something of a perfect storm for the allergic, he said, as it is a friendly environment for pollen and mold -- two of the major allergens.
"Unfortunately, we just sit in a very bad place," he said. "We're actually a pretty rural state. We have lots of trees (that can produce pollen). It's also damp at night, and when it's damp at night, you can get mold."
About 40 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, which produce such symptoms as sneezing, sniffling, coughing and irritated eyes. These unpleasant symptoms happen when the body's immune system sees harmless substances, such as pollen, as a threat and attacks them.
Bridgeport and the other cities are long-standing members of the sniffle-and-sneeze club, as all have been on this list before. New Haven and Bridgeport both improved their rankings from last year, when they were the 49th and 61st worst cities for allergies, respectively.
But Hartford actually fared better last year, when it was merely the 55th worst place for those with fall allergies.
The worst city in the country for the allergy-prone? Wichita, Kan., based on high pollen counts and a widespread use of allergy medications by seasonal sneezers.
Though fall hasn't officially started yet, fall allergy season is already in full swing, and experts are predicting an awful one. According to the Allergy Capitals report, ragweed -- the major fall allergy -- is going to be particularly troublesome this year, as rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels could extend the plants' season by as much as a month. Also, an above-average hurricane season is predicted in the East, and high winds from the storms can increase the distribution of pollen.
Locally, doctors said they also expect this fall to be rough for the allergy-prone. Hen said he's seen the number of children coming in with asthma attacks "skyrocket" over the past week, and he attributes that to the onset of a nasty fall allergy season.
This year overall has been tough for allergy sufferers, as the spring season also was difficult, said Dr. Kenneth Backman, president of Allergy and Asthma Care of Fairfield County, with offices in Fairfield and Monroe. Like Hen, Backman has already observed a rush of allergy-related patients and assumes there are more to come.
"So far, it does seem to be a very bad season," said Backman, also chief of Bridgeport Hospital's allergy section. "And I do anticipate that it's going to continue."