There are plenty of reasons to stay inside this winter—colder weather, social distancing and the dreaded cedar fever season.
Central Texas, including parts of the Brazos River basin, has often been referred to as the “Allergy Capital of the World,” with cedar fever listed as a top contributor to this title. With cedar fever season in full swing, it’s helpful to understand the allergy and how it causes Texans to sneeze as soon as they step out the front door.
With the coronavirus still causing concerns worldwide, the term “cedar fever” may cause some concern. However, cedar fever is not a virus or flu. Cedar fever is a seasonal allergy that causes an allergic reaction to a mountain cedar tree’s pollen. The Ashe juniper is Texas’ most common mountain cedar species, and when mixed with other species, it can cause intense allergic reactions.
“Cedar fever is the worst west of I-35, where you have primarily juniper mixed in with oaks and some other species,” Jonathan Motsinger, the Central Texas Operations department head for the Texas A&M Forest Service said in a recent online article. “And because all of those junipers are producing pollen at the same time, you’re going to get a higher concentration of pollen in the air.”
The highly concentrated pollen causes the high amounts of pollen in the air, sending people who typically aren’t susceptible to allergies into a sneezing fit.
Cedar fever season starts in early December and lasts through February, with the season’s peak taking place within the first two weeks of January. However, cedar allergies can begin affecting people as early as November and as late as March. While most trees typically pollinate in the spring, cedar trees are triggered by cold temperatures and release pollen after a cold front. In fact, the way cedar trees release pollen makes it look like the trees are smoking or even on fire.
“Following a cold front, the air dries out, we get some wind, and the pressure is different,” Robert Edmonson, a biologist for the Texas A&M Forest Service, said in the article. “Under those conditions, every single pollen cone on a juniper tree will open at one time, and it looks like the trees are on fire. It looks like there’s smoke coming off them.”
On days with high pollen counts, it may be hard for cedar allergic people to go outdoors. And pollen can be spread far and wide by the wind, so cedar fever can still affect people who live far away from the trees.
According to Texas MedClinic, cedar fever symptoms include a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, nasal blockage, sneezing, fatigue, headaches, sore throat, a loss of smell and may even cause your temperature to increase slightly. Some of these symptoms line up with common coronavirus symptoms. However, cedar pollen rarely causes body temperatures to go above 101.5, so if your fever exceeds that number, it is likely not cedar fever.
“If your mucus is running clear,” Edmonson said, “then it’s an allergy. If it’s got color, then it’s probably a cold or the flu.”
Allergy medications and staying inside when the pollen count is high can help keep your cedar fever at bay. Many local news stations share daily pollen counts and can anticipate when the pollen will be particularly bad. If the pollen affects you even when you are indoors, keep your windows and doors closed and try changing the air conditioning filters in your car and home. High-efficiency particulate air filters can help filtrate pollen more effectively. If you cannot avoid going outside, be sure to change your clothes and shower once you come back inside.
Removing cedar trees from your property won’t necessarily help, as the pollen is airborne, and they really only cause trouble during cedar fever season.
Interested in knowing if there are mountain cedar trees in your area? You can take a look at the distribution of native tree species across Texas here.