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‘You can run, but you can’t hide:' Texans endure a strong cedar fever season

Ashe juniper trees, the primary cause of cedar fever, in Leander, Texas.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Ashe juniper trees, the primary cause of cedar fever, in Leander, Texas.

In Texas, they say residents haven’t felt anything yet until they get cedar fever: when the majestic cedar trees — technically Ashe juniper, aka mountain cedar — of Central Texas become so imbued with pollen that all it takes is a brisk breeze to make many across the state pretty miserable.

Experts say cedar fever started early this year, causing many to feel the sniffling and sneezing for a few weeks now. Dr. Edward Brooks, division chief of pediatric allergy, immunology and infectious diseases at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said managing symptoms with over-the-counter antihistamines is the way to go, and that wearing a mask to guard against pollen is also a good move.

When does cedar fever season technically start?

Historically, the cedar begins to pollinate in mid-December and peaks when we get a hard cold front in early January, lasting until the end of that month or the first week of February. The dry, cold air really makes the pollen fall, Brooks said.

What are the symptoms of cedar fever?

Typical allergy symptoms: itchy, watery eyes and sneezing, as well as severe sinus pressure. Symptoms are made worse by the amount and potency of cedar pollen, Brooks said — but don’t expect an actual fever.

“The term cedar fever, like hay fever, is a misnomer, because you don’t get fever with allergies,” he said. “If you got a fever, you got a cold, got an infection of some kind.”

What’s the best way to minimize symptoms?

The most effective therapy is nasal steroid sprays such as Flonase and other over-the-counter options, Brooks said.

He also recommends non-sedating antihistamines like cetirizine or fexofenadine – found in Zyrtec or Allegra – for the itching and sneezing symptoms, or Benadryl at bedtime.

“You can run, but you can’t hide. There’s juniper all around the country,” he said. “It’s just, the cedar in the hill country is – really, there’s a lot of it. And the trees put out tons of pollen.”

When should I see a doctor, instead of continuing to try and treat symptoms at home?

If you’re having difficulty breathing, especially if you have a history of asthma and don’t have an inhaler, it’s time to see a doctor, Brooks said, adding that colds tend to come and go, while allergies tend to come and stay.

Is a nebulizer helpful? Should parents have one on hand?

Nebulizers work just fine for children with a history of asthma who are too young to use inhalers, Brooks said, though he usually recommends inhalers for adults: “They’re much more portable, and with proper technique, you can get the same benefit.”

Are masks effective in avoiding cedar pollen?

Yes, Brooks said – in fact, he advises patients to wear a mask.

“COVID taught everyone it’s okay to wear a mask in public,” he said. “And when the pollen counts are high, it definitely helps.”

Copyright 2023 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Kristen Cabrera
Gabrielle Muñoz