A Special Tree for That Time of Year

My phone and tablet dinged simultaneously at 8:03AM. It was the alert I'd been expecting this time of year. No, not that Amazon was delivering a last-minute round of holiday gifts. Instead my multi-platform notification read, "A high pollen alert has been issued. Predominant Pollen: Cedar, Juniper."

© Chase Fountain | TPWD

On cue, the itchy eyes and raw throat commence. Cedar fever is here.

Those of you that live outside of the zone of drifting pollen might think giving such a moniker to a common allergy a little silly. But cut us some slack — cedar fever is all too real.

The culprit is the Ashe juniper, a type of mountain cedar, more specifically the male of the species. It's not that they have a more virulently allergenic pollen than any other plant or tree. But the trees exist in such high concentration in the Hill Country and Central Texas, all releasing pollen to the wind at the same time, that the sheer volume is bound to trigger allergic reactions.

courtesy Texas A&M Forest Service

Thus, the classic inflammatory response of the immune system — a stuffy nose or a runny nose; sneezing through the nose; sinus drainage leading to a sore throat or lack of sinus drainage leading to headaches; and of course itchy, reddened eyes. And, for me at least, an intense desire to just go back to bed until I feel normal again.

Unfortunately, those same symptoms are also commonly associated with a cold or the flu. This can lead to confusion since this massive wave of pollination runs December into March, right in the middle of flu season. This year concerns may be higher as these are also coronavirus symptoms. 

There are a few differences to keep in mind. Cedar fever can actually cause a fever, but it's rarely going to be particularly high. If you have symptoms and your temperature is higher than 101.5 F then it's unlikely to be due to pollen. Itchy eyes, stuffy nose and sneezing are also not commonly linked to coronavirus but are trademark symptoms of cedar fever. The dead giveaway according to Robert Edmonson, a biologist for Texas A&M Forest Service, is that "if your mucus is running clear, then it's an allergy. If it's got color, then it's probably a cold or the flu." 

In the end, it's not the trees' fault; they're just doing as nature intended. They choose the optimal moment to release their pollen into the world and let it fall where it may. We just blow our noses, take our antihistamine and wait for a good rain to clean the layer of yellow dust from our cars.

© Ilona Lablaika | Dreamstime

To learn more about the about the flora that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

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