A Ranking Of US States With Highest & Lowest Pollen Counts

Achoo! Allergy season is rough when you have nasal allergies and live in one of the highest pollen count states. It can be challenging to enjoy the splendor of the seasons when you are busy sneezing, wheezing, and wiping your watery eyes. 

Depending on where you live, a significant portion of the year may require you to take extra precautions to avoid allergy triggers. Staying inside during peak pollen times, which can be tracked with MapMyAir, and using an air purifier to improve your indoor air quality can help lessen your symptoms. 

Pollen counters use their data to rank the lowest pollen count states and the highest pollen count states in the US each year. That information is then compiled by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) into their annual Most Challenging Places to Live With Allergies guide each year [1]. The goal is to help improve the quality of life for people living with seasonal allergies. 

The AAFA’s handbook ranks heavy pollen locations by city and state and provides specifics about why it has ranked those areas as some of the worst for pollen allergy sufferers. Consumers can use the information to determine if their city contributes to the intensity of their pollen allergies.

 

Calculating Pollen Count

How is pollen count calculated? To interpret which are the lowest pollen count states and which are the highest pollen count states, you must first understand how pollen counters collect and calculate their data. 

Pollen count measures the grains of pollen per cubic meter of air using a standardized calculation. Pollen counters use an air-sampling device called a rotarod to collect pollen for 24 hours. 

The device uses clear silicone rods coated in grease to attract and retain pollen. Scientists then analyze the collected materials, checking for the types of pollen and their concentration levels over a given 24-hour period. There are also designated pollen seasons [2], during which time pollen counters collect their figures.

Pollen counters consist of individuals who received specialized training through the National Allergy Bureau [3]. Before they become certified pollen counters, they must complete a training course and pass an exam that tests their knowledge on the procedures for collecting and analyzing pollen data to ensure accuracy.

 

Factors That Affect Pollen Count

Even in some of the worst states for pollen, the numbers fluctuate from one day to the next. Certain factors — rain, temperatures, wind — affect daily pollen counts. 

When it is hot, dry, and windy, you can expect pollen to travel faster and further because there is no moisture to help slow it down. It also tends to stick to any surface it encounters.

Cool, damp, and rainy days generally have less pollen circulating in the air, but it does not mean it will be better for your allergies. Rain feeds the plants and weeds that produce pollen, stimulating them to grow and release more pollen [4].

Pollen counts ebb and flow with the time of day as well. They steadily rise during the morning hours and peak about mid-day before gradually declining into the overnight hours. Staying indoors during peak times is one of the most effective ways to keep your pollen allergies in check.

Climate change also affects pollen counts [5]. Many pollen counters have noticed that warmer temperatures have driven up the amount of pollen in the air. 

Climate change has enabled longer pollen seasons, which in turn increases the amount of time pollen allergy sufferers must practice avoidance and other strategies to keep their allergy symptoms under control.

 

Highest Pollen Count States

What state has the highest pollen count? As previously mentioned, the AAFA does not rank the worst locations for pollen allergies by entire states. 

Since the AAFA uses specific criteria to determine which areas have the worst pollen counts, they prepare and release their data by city. Some states have more than one city that qualifies as a high-pollen location.

The AAFA report considers three crucial factors when ranking cities and states for high or low pollen counts:

  • Availability of board-certified allergists
  • Higher-than-average allergy medication usage
  • Higher-than-average spring and fall pollen counts

They collect this data from the 100 most-populated US metropolitan areas. For 2021, the AAFA ranked Scranton, PA as the top 2021 Allergy Capital because it had fewer board-certified allergists, higher than average pollen counts, and higher allergy medication use among its residents than other cities in the study.

The AAFA also placed these nine other cities and states on its “Worse Than Average” list for pollen allergy sufferers, rounding out the top 10:

  1. Richmond, VA, with a total score of 98.78 out of 100
  2. Wichita, KS, with a total score of 89.09 out of 100
  3. McAllen, TX, with a total score of 85.76 out of 100
  4. Pittsburgh, PA, with a total score of 85.63 out of 100
  5. Hartford, CT, with a total score of 85.37 out of 100
  6. Springfield, MA, with a total score of 84.28 out of 100
  7. New Haven, CT, with a total score of 83.61 out of 100
  8. Oklahoma City, OK, with a total score of 83.18 out of 100
  9. Bridgeport, CT, with a total score of 82.90 out of 100

The AAFA notes that climate change in these top 10 cities and states is the most dramatic factor contributing to the worsening pollen seasons. 

Since 1970, the last freeze in these cities has occurred earlier in the winter season, extending the pollination period for spring plants. Earlier pollination means thicker, sticky, yellow pollen in the air and in your lungs longer. 

Taking proactive measures to help reverse climate change is one of the best ways to keep some of the worst-performing cities from getting any unhealthier for allergy sufferers.

 

Lowest Pollen Count States

What states have the lowest pollen count? Using the same methodology, the AAFA also determined what states have the lowest pollen count

These states earned the “Better Than Average” ranking, which means they had consistently lower pollen counts in both the spring and fall than other states compared in the study. They also had higher access to board-certified allergists who could help allergy sufferers maneuver pollen season with as few symptoms as possible. 

As with the highest pollen count areas on their list, the AAFA ranked the best cities to live for pollen allergy sufferers, as follows:

  1. Durham, NC, with a total score of 37.56 out of 100
  2. Seattle, WA, with a total score of 41.95 out of 100
  3. Provo, UT, with a total score of 42.61 out of 100
  4. Salt Lake City, UT, with a total score of 44.95 out of 100
  5. San Jose, CA, with a total score of 45.12 out of 100
  6. Stockton, CA, with a total score of 45.17 out of 100
  7. Milwaukee, WI, with a total score of 46.91 out of 100
  8. Portland, OR, with a total score of 46.91 out of 100
  9. Fresno, CA, with a total score of 48.29 out of 100
  10. Denver, CO, with a total score of 49.22 out of 100

California has the highest number of populated metropolitan areas in the top 10. Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco are also listed on the “Better Than Average” list, making California one of the best states for people living with pollen allergies.

 

Average Ranking Cities And States For Pollen Allergies

The AAFA went one step further in naming cities and states it considers average for pollen counts. These metropolitan areas had spring and fall pollen seasons that were in line with what pollen counters anticipated. 

The most average city for pollen allergies for 2021 is Houston, TX. It received a score of 62.74 out of 100. Also appearing on the list of average places for pollen allergies are:

  • Atlanta, GA, at 62.80 out of 100
  • Daytona Beach, FL, at 63.67 out of 100
  • Cleveland, OH, at 63.71 out of 100
  • Poughkeepsie, NY, at 63.89 out of 100
  • Oxnard, CA, at 63.93 out of 100

Air Purifiers For The Highest Pollen Count States

Choosing top-quality air purifiers with the best-performing air filters is one of the most effective ways to cope with living in the highest pollen count states

Oransi’s Max Air Purifier was rated number one for performance in the only comprehensive university study. With true HEPA filtration, this purifier efficiently and silently removes dust, pollen, mold, and other allergens from your indoor environment. 

Other top performers from Oransi include the OV200 and the mod jr.

When choosing an air purifier, it is important to look at more than just the type of filter it uses. Another factor to pay attention to are the MERV ratings to ensure you select a model that is best suited to your indoor environment. 

MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) ratings were created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to rate efficiency in removing airborne particles with 0.3 to 10 microns. 

A MERV rating of 13 is sufficient for removing pollen and other allergens from your indoor environment to provide cleaner, healthier air.

 

References

[1] 2021 Allergy Capitals: The Most Challenging Places to Live With Allergies, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

[2] Defining Pollen Seasons: Background and Recommendations, Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, Bastl, Kmenta, and Berger, 2018 October 29.

[3] National Allergy Bureau, Become a Counter, https://pollen.aaaai.org/#/pages/become-a-counter.

[4] Studying plant-pollinator interactions in a changing climate: A review of approaches, Diane L. Byers, 2017 June 5, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5499306.

[5] Anthropogenic climate change is worsening North American pollen seasons, Anderegg, W., et al, PNAS February 16, 2021, https://www.pnas.org/content/118/7/e2013284118.