The yellow pollen cones on this Ashe juniper tree don’t look like much on their own, but they can contribute to the winter phenomenon known as cedar fever. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
Unlike other trees, Ashe junipers, or cedar trees, pollinate in the winter rather than the spring. From late December through February, cold fronts in Central Texas are followed by bursts of reddish pollen into the air that often affect even those not otherwise susceptible to allergies.
Cedar pollen isn’t harmful or more allergenic than other common outdoor culprits, said Robert Edmonson, a biologist for the Texas A&M Forest Service. It affects so many because there is so much, all at the same time. When the pollen releases, the trees look as if they are enveloped in smoke. Winter winds blow the pollen far afield, affecting even those not immediately near the trees.
“It absolutely overwhelms the immune system,” Edmonson said.
He equated it to trying to breathe in a dust storm with so much pollen drifting through the air that even those who don’t usually get allergies come down with sniffles and raw throats.
Striking in the middle of flu season compounds the stress of those who suffer from cedar fever. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and some might have trouble distinguishing symptoms among the three.
Fortunately, relief is close at hand for those who suffer from cedar fever, the two Highland Lakes allergists agreed.
Prevention is one step toward relief, Albertson said. The simplest way to avoid breathing in cedar pollen is to avoid going outside as much as possible during the peak of cedar fever season. When you do go outside, wear a face mask to help curb the amount of pollen getting into your nose, respiratory system, and lungs. Inside your home, turn off ceiling fans at night to prevent stirring up allergens that have snuck in through leaky door and window seals.
For those who enjoy the outdoors or must go outside, avoid the hours between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when Ashe juniper pollen is typically at its peak, Lele said.
Albertson and Lele both suggest starting with over-the-counter medications such as nasal steroids (Flonase, etc.) and antihistamines (Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra) to help alleviate symptoms. Though the optimum time for beginning those medications, particularly nasal sprays, was in early to mid-December, the over-the-counter options are still viable and useful throughout cedar season.
Homeopathic remedies are available over the counter at places such as Atkins Pharmacy or Hill Country Health Store, both in Marble Falls. You can also make your own cedar tea (see recipe following the story).
Sometimes, self-care is not enough. Allergy sufferers might need to visit an allergist, who can run tests to identify the allergens. They can also help with other medications or set up a desensitization regime to possibly relieve and/or cure the person of the allergy.
“If your allergies are really bothering you and, no matter what you try, the symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day life, then you probably need to see an allergist,” Lele said. “We can help you.”