Austin is constantly rated as a number one city. There really isn’t much about living here that isn’t cool. Unless you get cedar fever. Not everyone gets it, and if you do, symptoms can range from very mild to very uncomfortable.
Here is a short video of a Juniper Ash tree (cedar tree) releasing the allergenic pollen.
My nose might be the best cedar pollen detector in the entire state of Texas.
Every year, about a week before the news stations begin to announce the beginnings of cedar season, I can feel the symptoms starting. At first it feels like a cold, but I never get a fever, and it never really progresses into anything more sever. Thankfully I don’t get it too bad, but I have some friends who aren’t as fortunate.
Like I said, for me, it feels like I’ve got a cold coming on. I get a runny nose, and a little lethargy. My nose is like a faucet that won’t turn off, and I’m always tired. Some people get itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and even skin conditions. I’ve tried the homeopathic remedies, but the best solution for me is Sudafed by day, and Benadryl by night. If I don’t manage the runny nose it can progress to a bronchitis or nasal infection, but so far I’ve been pretty lucky.
Sadly, it lasts for 4-6 weeks. But then, one day it’s gone, I feel better, and life goes on.
Since you can’t use me as your barometer for when cedar is going to hit you, so here are some other resources I find helpful:
What is Cedar Fever?
Sometime near the end of the year usually in December, but sometimes as early as November the Juniperus ashei trees. There’s even a Wikipedia entry for Cedar Fever. Some compare it to Hay Fever or Ragweed, but I know people that get all three, and they tell me that Cedar is the worst of them.
The cedar trees that prevent erosion, all over central Texas are the main culprit. Of course, they aren’t really cedars, but Junipers, and in the late fall or early winter (November & December) they begin to produce pollen. Microscopic in size, the pollen comes off the trees when the wind blows, and can float for miles. It can hitch a ride on your car, or dog, or stick to your clothing and hair. Then you breathe it in. That’s when it all starts.
I could get all scientific on you about how the pollen elicits an IgG immune response, talk about histamines, white cells, and all that good stuff (I used to be a biochemist), but it really doesn’t matter. If you get it, you know it, and you feel lousy to miserable.
Thankfully it only lasts 4 or so weeks right around the beginnings of winter, and once the pollen is gone, so are the symptoms.
How do you do a pollen count?
For all you nerds out there, here’s how cedar pollen is measured. A silicone covered rod is simply placed outside. The silicon is sticky and the pollen attaches to it as the wind blows. Generally the rod is left outside for 24 hours. Then a tech brings it into the lab, carefully collects the pollen that is stuck to it, and begins to count it under a microscope.
You need to have some good training to count properly. Different kinds of pollen look , so the technician needs to be careful and accurate. The count is reported as grains per cubic meter of air, but most people just give it a number. Low counts are under 100, medium is 100-1000, and high is over 1000. My symptoms start usually in the 2-3 grains per m3 area.
On dry, windy days the allergy counts are higher, as you would expect, and lower on rainy days of course.
Where is the best allergy forecast in Austin?
Most TV stations report the pollen count during their evening newscasts during the weather segment. Of course I’m never sitting in front of a TV for that long, so I just turn to the internet. Best websites for pollen counts in Austin are:
I prefer these because they always give a number associated with the pollen count.
What parts of Austin have the highest pollen count?
Different parts of town have different levels of course. If you are renting an apartment in the Domain, or have a condo downtown, you can expect to have lower pollen counts affecting you that if you live out in the country.
A few years ago the meterologists at KVUE did some testing around Austin, and here are the top three areas with the highest cedar pollen counts
- Cedar Park
- North Austin along loop 360
- the “Y” at Oak Hill
How to treat Cedar Fever
Your first line of defense is a little bit of prevention.
Living in Austin is great. We have very mild winters, and it’s not uncommon for me to open my doors and windows during the winter to let fresh air in. Temps can be in the 70’s which is absolutely beautiful. But during Cedar season, I keep my house sealed up tight. No open windows. Keep the french doors closed. I even change the air filter on the HVAC a little bit more often. You may want to dust and clean inside more often too. And avoid yard work if at all possible.
If you have pets the pollen can collect on their fur, and while they won’t be affected, they can bring those spores into your house and spread it around, so puppy may need to get a bath more often.
If I’ve been outside for any long period of time, whenever I get home I change out of my clothes and take a nice hot shower, as the pollen can stick to fabrics and hair.
If you are afflicted there are many remedies. Like I mentioned earlier I turn to Sudafed and Benadryl. Others use a Netty Pot or saline nose spray. Claratin or Zyrtec is an OTC medicine that can help. Others get a prescription for Flonase or other drugs. In severe cases you may want to consult an allergist.
Homeopathic remedies include eating local honey, and local pharmacies sell other remedies, but I’ve never tried them.
Even with the threat that you might get cedar fever, don’t let that stop you from moving here. we all get through it.
Main Cedar tree image courtesy of Blue Image Photo.