Austin is a wonderful place to live, with its vibrant music scene to its beautiful landscape, to its warm inviting people. But every winter there is a syndrome that sweeps over this wonderful city making many of its citizens feel ill. This is known as “Cedar Fever”. It begins in December and goes through February.
WHAT DOES CEDAR FEVER COME FROM?
Cedar Fever stems from inhaling the pollen from the local Mountain Cedar (MC) tree that pollinates in the months of November through March. MC is an evergreen tree with grey–brown shredding bark. Formally known as Juniperus ashei (also called Juniperus sabinoides or Juniperus mexicana), MC is a member of the cypress–juniper (Cupressaceae) family. It grows to a maximum height of approximately 30 feet on the limestone plateaus of central Texas and Austin, and in smaller favorable areas of Texas, New Mexico, northern Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. When the trees are shaken or blown, the pollen falls off and gives a smoky appearance.
Drive down Ranch Road 620 during the height of cedar fever season and you will see a haze that fills the valley. That is not pollution – it is the pollen rising from the trees! It is considered one of the most allergenic pollens in the country.
HOW DOES CEDAR FEVER FEEL?
Cedar Fever is a misnomer. You don’t actually get a true fever, even though the inflammation of your allergies may slightly raise your temperature. It is not an infection. Many people experience an itchy, runny nose, sneezing, nasal blockage, excess tearing and itchy eyes, also known as Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis). Others complain of itching of the palate, throat, or ears, and post–nasal drainage. Some experience fatigue, mild headache, facial discomfort, sore throat, partial loss of sense of smell, and sensation of ear plugging. If these symptoms persist they can eventually lead to infections of the sinuses, and even make eczema and/or asthma worsen.
HOW DO I TREAT CEDAR FEVER?
Avoidance is the best measure for one suffering from Cedar Fever. This is achieved by keeping your windows and doors closed, especially if it is windy. Wear a dust mask while gardening (it does not have to be an expensive one to be effective). When you come in from the outside wash your hands, face and clothing. Rinsing your sinuses, with a nasal saline spray (mildly effective) or a sinus wash like the neti pot (more effective) will remove the pollen debris. Lessening your exposure time will consequently lessen your symptoms.
Medications can be effective if used properly. There are many to choose from and consulting with your physician to determine which is best is recommended. While medications may alleviate symptoms, they are not addressing the underlying process.
Immunotherapy for Mountain Cedar is available for a more holistic approach. Immunotherapy (IT), also known as allergy shots, is a treatment protocol used to make one less sensitive to things to which one is allergic. IT works by slowly making your body less responsive to inhaled allergens over the course of several months to years. Allergy is an overreaction by your immune system to things like MC pollen, animal dander, dust, or mold.
The mechanism by which IT works is believed to be related to a desensitization process where your immune system is made more familiar to allergens you come in contact with and prevents this overreaction. After going through the course of IT prescribed by your physician, your symptoms should lessen and you should require less medicine (essentially turning this immune switch off).