It's springtime in the United States, a time for many Americans to enjoy the warmer weather and flowering plants. However, it can also can be a difficult time of year for the one-in-four people who suffers from seasonal allergies.
It's also a tremendous drain on the economy. The U.S. loses an estimated $700 million a year in productivity and Americans spend billions more on allergy medications and treatments.
This has been an especially bad spring for allergies in the southeastern city of Murfreesboro, near Nashville, Tennessee.
It's hard to beat the American South in springtime. Every tree and shrub seems to be in bloom. But all that beauty comes at a heavy price. Because of its climate and vegetation, Tennessee is routinely listed as one of the worst places in the country to live if you suffer from seasonal allergies.
Bruce Lyon, a physical trainer, is in great shape. But when spring rolls around each year, he feels all his strength and energy melt away.
"This is the saddest thing. On the most beautiful days, especially when the spring starts around and you're ready to get out and do something," says Lyon. "Then I'm so tired I didn't even feel like getting out and doing anything. I felt like 'I think I'm going to go back home and sleep.'"
It's hard to believe something as small as a grain of pollen could cause so much misery. But in vast numbers, the effect can be overwhelming. Allergist Burt Wolf says this year has been worse than usual.
Blame it on global warming?
"I mean we don't even need a calendar for a certain segment of our patient population. We know when allergy season begins for them and how it affects them. But this year many of our patients were calling two or three weeks earlier. "
Wolf believes global warming may be the culprit.
"Increased temperature to a certain degree and also increased CO2, or so-called greenhouse effect," says Wolf. "These things, in some studies, have shown to increase pollen over the last decades, 60 to 90 percent."
Allergy sufferer Steve Melton does what he can to avoid exposure to spring pollens, but it's nearly impossible.
"Leave it outside for five to six hours and the pollen residue that's on your car, you can actually write your name in," says Melton. "That's how heavy it gets. And that time of year is basically the worst time."
Melton says he can tell before he even gets out of bed what kind of day it's going to be.
"The runny nose, the watery eyes, and the sneezing…that's the one, two, three symptoms that tell me every day whether it's gonna be tough outside today."
Allergies can not be cured but the symptoms can be treated. Doctor Wolf says several new medications have reached the market in recent years and allergy injections often work for more severe cases.
"The medicines are so good and so safe that there should be very few people who have to suffer day to day with allergies," says the doctor. "So people should seek care because it's out there, it's safe and they don't have to live their lives sniffling and wheezing and suffering."
With his allergies back under control, Bruce Lyon is free to enjoy one of those beautiful southern springs.
"As a matter of fact, I'm picking up about 12 flats of flowers tomorrow from a client of mine who's in the landscape business, and going to set them out for my mom this weekend. So this allows me to do that without being miserable."