You made it through Thanksgiving. You know what that means? Only about four more weeks to New Year’s and the typical start of cedar fever season.
But last year cedar fever season started in mid-December, catching everyone off-guard.
Get prepared this year by taking action now.
Cedar fever is not really cedar-related and doesn’t typically come with a fever. It’s triggered when the male Ashe juniper trees get really excited to spread their pollen to the female Ashe juniper trees. Then they let the wind spread their pollen to all their female Ashe juniper friends far and wide. (How do you tell a male Ashe juniper from a female? The female has berries on the branches. The male will be coated with yellowish brown pollen.)
Anyone who has been exposed to this pollen over time might start feeling its effects as early as the first year of exposure, or it could be many years. It’s one of the unpredictable things about cedar fever, said Dr. Allen Lieberman of Austin Family Allergy & Asthma.
What will this cedar fever season look like?
"I think it will be pretty above average," Lieberman said.
Why? We had rain in late October and November, which will help keep the trees full of pollen.
It also will be a bad year if it is dry and windy during cedar fever season. We should all hope for a wet December and January once cedar fever season starts to dampen the pollen or a good ice storm to knock it out.
People with cedar fever typically have itchy, watery eyes and runny noses. It can lead to a sinus infection, and people who have asthma might have trouble breathing.
The difficult thing about cedar fever is it usually happens during cold and flu season, so sometimes people will think it’s just allergies when it’s really a virus or the flu. Or they will think they have a virus or the flu, and it’s really cedar fever.
Typically, if you have a fever, it’s not going to be cedar fever, but Lieberman said it can be a perfect storm: High pollen counts with cold and flu season have you feeling terrible all the way around.
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What makes cedar fever so difficult compared with other allergies is the amount of allergens in the air. Cedar pollen counts can be in the 10,000 to 12,000 range on a bad day. A bad oak day would be 800, meaning 800 pollen grains landing in a defined area compared with 12,000 pollen grains.
The best way to avoid cedar fever is to get out of Central Texas during this time, Lieberman said.
Because that’s not realistic, here are more doable tips to get ready for cedar fever season:
• Start taking over-the-counter medications now. Lieberman likes to have patients combine both an antihistamine such as Claritin and a nasal steroid spray such as Flonase. You need about two weeks of medication in your body to do the most good.
• Once you start taking these medications, do not stop through the end of January, when the season usually comes to an end, or until you notice that the daily pollen charts don’t have cedar or Ashe juniper listed on them.
• Use a neti pot or another kind of saline wash to rinse away the pollen from your nose.
• Wash your body, hair and clothes after being outside.
• Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors in December and January. Lieberman says this is not the time to play a round of golf if you’re sensitive to cedar. Especially avoid going outside on dry, windy days, when cedar is really blowing around.
• Plan ahead for next year. If you are miserable this year, plan to start allergy shots six months before December or drops three months before to gear up for the next season.
What definitely doesn’t work for cedar fever is local honey, Lieberman said. Bees don’t pollinate the Ashe juniper; the wind does. The bees' honey won’t have enough cedar pollen in it to make a difference.
Yet stores across Central Texas will be out of local honey once cedar fever starts, Lieberman said. Instead, stock up on antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, tissue and saline rinse.