Allergies are so common here that Dr. Todd Levin said he and his co-workers joke that the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic is the unofficial welcoming committee for the city.
“People coming in from VW and Wacker and Amazon—a lot of those patients come in from other places who never had allergies until they moved here," Levin said.
Now, the self-proclaimed, unofficial welcoming committee has been nominated for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Award.
Between five offices, the allergy clinic has about 57 employees.
Dr. Hyman Kaplan started the practice by himself in 1975 and remained solo until 2000, Levin said. And over the years, three other allergists—Marc W. Cromie, Lee M. Perry and Levin joined.
Since then, it’s grown to have more offices in Hamilton County—on Lee Highway, in Hixson and at Erlanger at Volkswagen—and in Fort Oglethorpe and Cleveland.
Worldwide, the increase in the prevalence of allergic diseases has continued in the industrialized world for more than 50 years, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America listed Chattanooga No. 7 in the top 10 worst cities for allergies, according to a 2012 WebMD article.
Because Chattanooga is in a valley surrounded by mountains, dust and other allergens settle into the area, he said.
The area also has some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the area, he said.
To test to find out what patients are allergic to, doctors scratch the skin with a pick that has allergen extract on it. If the patient is allergic, a red bump will appear.
Employees at the five locations work with patients to identify and treat allergies and asthma, Levin said.
They work to minimize interaction with dust mites, pet dander and pollen, then look toward possible medication to control allergy symptoms.
They also give shots that can help strengthen the immune system and make a patient less allergic.
The Chattanooga Allergy Clinic team works to prevent more severe problems with allergies and asthma, in part because it helps save money if patients can avoid trips to the emergency room.
“The insurance companies find that patients that see us end up being in the hospital 77 percent less,” Levin said. “It ends up saving them money for them to come see us. So, for the most part, we are a covered service.”
Levin said he got into the practice after he found at age 18 that he had asthma. He was a student at the University of Georgia and was having trouble just walking to classes. And his grades were slipping because of the situation.
After being diagnosed and getting on medication, his grades improved. He could walk to class. And he said if he hadn’t had help from the people who diagnosed him, he may not have made it to medical school.
He hopes he can help others like someone helped him.
And now he works for a practice that thinks of patients like family, he said.
“We take care of our own,” he said.
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories about the finalists for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Awards.