Ashe juniper pollen cones release pollen during cold weather, creating cedar fever season. In the Highland Lakes, cedar fever season peaks in December and January and is especially harsh after a cold front. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
‘Tis the season for sneezin’ in the Highland Lakes, where Ashe junipers, or cedar trees, burst forth with allergy-inducing pollen every December and January. Cedar is one of the few plants that releases pollen in the middle of winter.
Burnet and Llano counties are thick with juniper, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service’s biomass and forest distribution mapping. Robert Edmonson, a biologist with the forest service, explained that Ashe juniper pollen isn’t particularly allergenic or harmful but is so concentrated that it affects a lot of people.
“It’s like trying to breathe in a dust storm,” he stated in a TFS media release. “It absolutely overwhelms the immune system.”
Cedar trees release pollen during cold weather, particularly after a cold front when the air dries out and the air pressure changes. When a wind comes along, these conditions trigger cedar pollen cones to open, releasing blasts of pollen into the air. In some cases, it looks as if smoke or a cloud of dust is erupting from the trees. Winds can carry that pollen far from the source, spreading the misery of cedar fever everywhere.
Cedar fever can feel like an illness. said Dr. Maya Lele, an allergist with Baylor Scott & White Health. She offered a few recommendations for those prone to allergies when cedar pollen explodes.
If possible, avoid going outdoors on dry and windy days as well as from 5-10 a.m., when pollen counts are at their highest levels during the day. Also, if you must go outside, wear sunglasses and a mask or face covering.
Begin using medications about two weeks prior to peak pollen season to help prevent or curtail symptoms. Lele recommends intranasal steroid sprays and sinus rinses as effective ways to prevent allergy symptoms. Oral antihistamines, Lele added, could be used as needed, for instance, about 15 minutes before going outdoors on high pollen days.
Shannon Jamison, a holistic health practitioner with Atkins Pharmacy in Marble Falls, directs people to a product called Texas Allergy Relief.
“It’s a sublingual product that helps with a number of allergies like ragweed, mold, oak, and cedar,” she said. “It is highly effective.”
Though Jamison recommends people start using the spray a few months prior to cedar fever season, she said it’s still effective if you begin using it during the season. For those who already have symptoms, Jamison reaches for another product called D-Hist. It contains several active ingredients such as vitamin C, quercetin dihydrate, stinging nettle, and bromelain.
“Where (Texas Allergy Relief) helps prevent the allergy, D-Hist works on taking care of the symptoms,” Jamison said. “Many people who have glaucoma or dry eyes, even high blood pressure, can’t take decongestants, but they can use this.”
Other expert advice for curtailing cedar fever include:
take a shower before bed to rinse pollen off your skin and hair
keep doors and windows closed on high pollen days
use high-efficiency filters for your HVAC
keep pets clean, as their fur can bring pollen in from the outside
Cedar fever symptoms, which can mirror the flu or COVID-19, include fatigue, runny nose, sore throat, partial loss of smell, and sometimes a low-grade fever. Anyone not sure of the cause of their symptoms should contact their doctor.
Despite the misery caused by cedar trees, they do have benefits. The berries are used for medicines and oils that help ailments, including stomach aches and snakebites. They also provide food for wildlife and soil enrichment, and they tend to grow in places other trees or plants just can’t make it.