By Kimberly Pellicore
In most parts of the United States, the start of winter is a calming time for people with pollen allergies. In parts of the Southwest, however, it’s when bothersome nasal and eye allergy symptoms begin.
Most trees release their pollen in spring and fall, but in Central Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona and New Mexico, the Ashe Juniper tree – commonly referred to as mountain cedar – releases its pollen between December 15 and February 15. The phenomenon, nicknamed “cedar fever,” also affects parts of Mexico and Japan.
The release of cedar pollen is so intense in Central Texas that residents often describe a visible yellow and orange cloud of pollen hovering around the Ashe Juniper tree.
Cedar fever symptoms are similar to those of hay fever: sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, congestion and a runny nose.
“The symptoms start very suddenly and significantly so that it seems almost flu-like,” says Edward Peters, MD, of Allergy & Asthma Consultants in Austin. However, while most flu infections are accompanied by a substantial fever, cedar fever is not.
If you experience cedar fever, or if symptoms linger or worsen, schedule an appointment with a board-certified allergist to discuss treatment options and lifestyle changes.
Keeping cedar pollen from getting inside your home is key. Some tried-and-true tips:
• Keep windows and doors closed.
• Take off your shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking pollen on floors.
• Install a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, especially in bedrooms.
• Vacuum often.
Change clothes after being outside and take a bath or shower before bed to wash pollen off skin and hair.
Dr. Peters says he prescribes treatments for cedar fever based on the severity of a patient’s symptoms. Treatments include antihistamines, regular saline nasal rinsing, twice daily application of topical nasal corticosteroids, and sometimes montelukast, a leukotriene modifier approved for asthma and allergic rhinitis.
“Traditional immunotherapy also works really well for many patients,”
Dr. Peters adds.
As with any seasonal allergy, people with both asthma and cedar allergies should follow their Asthma Action Plan, monitor symptoms closely, take quick-relief medication if necessary, and seek medical attention if they experience difficulty breathing or other symptoms of distress.
Kimberly Pellicore is the mother of two children, one of whom has severe food allergies and asthma. She is a freelance writer in Kingwood, Texas, and author of the blog thefoodallergymom.org.
Reviewed by Tera Crisalida, PA-C