Chattanooga Allergy Clinic physician Marc Cromie said spring allergy season started a full month early this year thanks to a warm winter, and it won't stop until May. The air is still full of tree pollen.
"We' re completely swamped now," Cromie said. "We got something going on year-round but this is our peak season."
Cromie said patients come to Chattanooga Allergy for "something different" after trying over-the-counter medicines or nasal sprays from their primary care doctors.
"This time of year really nothing [at the drugstore] works," he said. "The day you stop those allergy meds the symptoms come back."
Cromie said CAC's weekly allergy shots - all-natural immunotherapy - work like a vaccine. Many patients, he said, take shots for four or five years and do not have allergy symptoms anymore, according to him.
"It's more of a cure than a cover-up," he said.
CAC patients don't need daily allergy meds or trips to the hospital for asthma, and 50 percent of patients who start shots early don't develop asthma at all, said Cromie.
Chattanooga Allergy will also help patients pinpoint what they're allergic to.
"It's easy to be aware of allergies in this city," Cromie said. "But a lot of people are treating their symptoms in the dark." Those home remedies can be costly, he said, referencing expensive mattress covers, torn-up carpet or fancy air purifiers that may not treat anything.
Cromie said transforming patients with "eyes swelling out of their head" into normal human beings is so rewarding that he doesn't mind when people stop him on the street to ask for help.
"I love it," he said. "Every day I go to work it's a joy."
Cromie and his staff were voted Best of the Best allergest in Chattanooga by Times Free Press readers in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and Best of the Best allergist in 2010 and 2011 for North Georgia.
Since Cromie joined the office in 2000, CAC has expanded to five offices from Cleveland to Fort Oglethorpe to make it easy for patients to come in every week. Some offices have extended hours, opening at 7 a.m. or closing at 7:30 p.m., to catch the school and sports crowd.
CAC's newest clinic at Erlanger at Volkswagen Drive will serve a growing number of employees at the Volkswagen plant and the Amazon distribution center at Enterprise South Industrial Park. This location opened in January and is staffed two days a week.
CAC's seven allergists and nurse practitioners visit every office each week, so patients will see the same people every time. Cromie said even doctors have to think about customer service now. He calls it the Ritz-Carlton plan.
"I want people to be treating patients like they're their own family member," he said. "You treat every patient like they're a customer. Nowadays people have choices in health care. They can go across the street and see another doctor."
Cromie was 6 years old visiting family in the Northeast when he had his first asthma attack.
"We thought it was just the North," he joked, but he said allergy shots enabled him to play sports without suffering from asthma.
"It changed my life. I really do believe that," said Cromie, who went on to study pediatrics and allergies. "This has been a dream come true for me; to be the allergist I always looked up to when I was a kid."
As more people continue to develop more allergies, Cromie and CAC won't be out of a job anytime soon.
"We are becoming more of an allergic society," Cromie said.
Most of the time, he said, allergies develop because the body's immune system is bored -- something that didn't happen years ago when people were busy fighting parasites and serious diseases. Good hygiene and antibiotics are the fallen angels to blame.
"The pollen season gets worse and worse. It doesn't go away if you live in this city," he said. And then, a little cheerfully, he added, "We have tons of people to help."
Chattanooga Allergy Clinic has offices in Cleveland, Hixson, Fort Oglethorpe and on Lee Highway and Volkswagen Drive. For more information about any office, call 423-899-0431 or visit www.chattanoogaallergyclinic.com.