Many of us look to the holidays with a mixture of excitement and dread; excitement because it’s the start of a new chapter in our lives — the chance to set new goals and make course corrections. Dread because in Central Texas the holidays come with sniffles and sneezes, thanks to the area’s abundance of cedar trees expelling pollen during the winter and making many of us miserable.
What is the best way to prepare for cedar season and minimize the impact of allergies, which tend to start in December?
Up to 20 percent of Central Texans suffer from cedar pollen allergies. Cedar “fever” hasn’t officially hit us in Central Texas, but now is the most important time to start preparing for what’s to come. Early preparation is critical in getting ahead of your symptoms.
Rachel Osborne, MD, an internist and pediatrician at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Georgetown Central, offers tips to help plan for cedar season, especially if you’re a newcomer to the Austin area.
First, your immune system needs at least six to 12 months to build up immunity to specific triggers like cedar.
“So, if a patient knows they have a history of sensitivity to cedar, we need to get them treated early, in some cases with allergy shots; the earlier the better,” Dr. Osborne said. “If we can nip it in the bud before the season starts, we can keep things manageable throughout the season. But, if you come in when you’re suffering at the peak of cedar season, then we won’t be able to do quite as much to help you.”
What is Mountain Cedar?
Mountain cedar produces pollen in the winter and grows plentifully in the Hill Country. When cold fronts blow in, they stir up the cedar pollen and this kicks off cedar fever. Many newcomers to the Austin area are not expecting to have allergies in the winter, so this catches many by surprise.
The cedar allergy season in Central Texas is caused by a few different plants. The plants are so closely related that the pollen they produce is almost identical under a microscope. The male trees appear to “smoke” as they release pollen from tiny cones. The female trees produce clusters of blue/green berries. The season generally peaks from December to March.
Allergies to cedar pollen can be so bad that they’ve been dubbed “cedar fever”. The mountain cedar trees are everywhere in this region, and they produce significant amounts of pollen, leaving sufferers miserable. However, if you’re symptomatic to the point that it is affecting your quality of life, you don’t have to suffer. There are some treatments your physician may be able to recommend for relief — but you have to start early.
Once Cedar Arrives
Once you’ve started the sneezing, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, swollen/sore throat, and congestion, your doctor can suggest over-the-counter remedies, which include antihistamines and regular salt-water rinses for the nose.
“If that doesn’t do the trick, your doctor may prescribe a steroid and decongestant nasal spray for symptom relief and encourage you to drink plenty of water,” Dr. Osborne said.
In some cases, physicians recommend taking preventative measures around Thanksgiving to prepare for what will happen once cedar hits. That includes the above mentioned remedies.
If you’re still not getting relief, see your physician. Some patients may also benefit from adding montelukast, an anti-inflammatory, into their regimen at night.
As for why some suffer from allergies like cedar more than others, Dr. Osborne said, it’s mostly related to genetics.
“You may be genetically prone to getting allergies, but you also need to be living in a high-allergy environment, generally, in order for you to develop a problem.”
“I encourage my patients who suffer from allergies to wash their clothes if outdoors for a prolonged period of time, and try to keep their pets outdoors or give them a bath before coming inside,” Dr. Osborne said. “Additionally, it helps to wash your bedding at least once a week, especially pillow cases.”
You can schedule an appointment if you are not feeling well by contacting Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Georgetown Central at 512-509-9550.
Read more expert medical tips and insights on Baylor Scott & White Health’s Scrubbing In, where hands-on health care discussions take place every day.
*This information is intended for general knowledge and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.