This is a close-up of a branch with pods and scales in the Central Texas Hill Country, of the juniperus ashei, known as Mountain Cedar. The second photo is of the pollen itself taken with an electron microscope, courtesy of the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some of the largest populations of Mountain Cedar are in the Central Texas area, according to this website. A map of the area appears here:
Cedar Fever is a problem for many Hill Country residents, especially in the Austin-San Antonio area where I live. After at least 20 years of personal experience and considerable research, I want to share some ways to make things easier. I am not the only one, according to this popular Texas Monthly article.
Managing the effects of the pollen helps a person get through the "season". The goal is to control the symptoms of a temporary irritant and prevent them from becoming an "allergy" and/or a sinus infection. It can also become bronchitis and pneumonia if not taken care of.
A allergist in San Antonio, Dr. Paul H. Ratner, keeps track of the pollen levels from his office in the South Texas Medical Center. Dr. Ratner also conducts research on asthma, allergies and other ailments through his company, Sylvana Research. The pollen levels are published daily at Dr. Ratner's Twitter Account. Most of the local TV stations also report these levels on the weather casts.
If you drive the beautiful Hill Country, you can see the cedars divide between male and female during the December through February pollen season. The male trees are the characteristic University of Texas "burnt orange", the female the normal green-blue, the ones with the tiny blue berries. When the reddish branches get overtaken by new green growth, the end of the pollen season is at hand, usually in late February or March.
I just finished reading your article on Cedar Fever. We live in the high desert mountains of New Mexico, and have been here for 5 years. We moved here to retire from Weatherford, Texas. I thought I had problems with Juniper allergy in Texas, well this place is a nightmare. The trees are native to this area, and they are everywhere you look. This year is the first year I have not had too bad of a time with my allergies from them, but my husband is in bad shape. The trick I discovered a few years ago has finally kicked in. I do not ingest the berries. I start eating the seeds from the male trees as soon as they start to form. In this local it begins in early January. At that time they are soft and tender with an herbal taste. I eat about 5 or 6 seeds a day for a month or so. The first year I started this I got a really sick feeling after eating the seeds and could not stand the taste. Friends of mine who also tried this also had a similar reaction. This year the seeds were well tolerated and I got through the season with a Claritin once a day, and when the levels got to their highest used allergy eye drops. Also discovered that wrap sunglasses during this time were a must to keep the pollen out of my eyes. Well, in closing I just want to suggest that you or yours may want to try the seeds next year. After all, it’s the pollen from the seeds that is in the air making us sick. Thanks for your time.
PS. I personally tried the berry 'cure' two months before cedar season. It did not help me and in fact that was the worst year I had every had. I had not learned the techniques mentioned above at that time.
The berry cure: "There is an old saying that the remedy for any ailment can be found within the vicinity of that which caused the ailment. In the case of cedar fever, the remedy is the tree. Old-timers ward off cedar fever by chewing 2-4 juniper berries per day, starting a month before and continuing through cedar fever season. The berries taste like pine with rosemary. The berries are an excellent diuretic. Do not eat them if you have bladder problems or you are pregnant.
The berry preventative could be viewed as something that helps the body adapt to an allergen. Once adapted, the body's natural defenses will no longer trigger the allergic reaction. This is the premise of allergy shots. Getting shots for 4-5 years builds immunity for most fever sufferers and can last 20 years. Face it. It's part of being a Texan. The trees are here to stay, and so is the allergy.
Good luck finding the berries when you need them! There are other non-drug substitutes for the OTC ones mentioned. Just search the "cedar fever remedies" and you will find some of them. I do not mention them because I have not tried them - I prefer the easily available and the relatively inexpensive. I re-framed the 'problem' as the effects of seasonal dehydration with high levels of pollen and was able at least control my symptoms until the pollen levels settle to nothing and the 'warmer' humid weather returns in February.
PS. I am a student of "A Course In Miracles" and very aware that physical symptoms are a "defense against the truth" which is that we all are perfect "Children of God". There is always a lesson to be learned from our physical ailments and often it is a call for Love and about forgiving ourselves or others, or both. It is a good reminder that I still have work to do in forgiving and this also helps immensely.
Cedar Fever Relief, Treatment, and Cure (Oak too!)
First of all, there are several things working against the average person:
1. Winter usually bring cold, dry north winds that blow in tons of pollen. The pollen levels spike at these times, sometimes 60 times what is considered 'heavy'.
2. In the winter, we turn on the heat, drying out our inside air.
3. The dry air outside and inside warm dry air dries out our sinuses, causing mucus (snot) to flow and clean out the sinus,and keep the sinus moist. If you are dehydrated the process is elongated and annoying.
4. It is very easy to get dehydrated, what with holiday alcohol, caffeine, many medications and not drinking enough water. This dehydration has an especially noticable effect on the sinus cavity.
5. The upshot is that our sinuses become dried out, causing irritation, pain, infection; OTC medications often worsen the situation. The body wants to help by cleaning and rehydrating the sinus cavity, which we take the meds to stop! The pollen and stress irritates it further, giving us cedar fever symptoms and worse. It is a slippery slope. What's a body to do?
What Not to do:
1. Take any over-the-counter medications that further dehydrate you. Decongestants and allergy medications may actually made it worse. While trying to get rid of the flowing snot, which is actually trying to hydrate your sinus and make it less irritated, we prevent it from doing its job.
2. Ignore it, especially if it gets worse, you are very dehydrated, and you have symptoms of a sinus infection. These infections can also drag on forever, even if they do not get worse. You may need medical intervention to get rid of it.
What to Do at the First Signs of Cedar or Oak Fever:
1. Invest in a good air purifier especially for your sleeping area. It will take out a lot of the pollen that infiltrates into your home. The "white noise" sound of the machine also helps mask snoring and other breathing difficulties your partner may be having. We use an old noisy Holmes one with a easy-to-find HEPA filter (Target) and it really helps. We used to have a humifier to add the moisture to the air since it is not uncommon for humidities to drop to around 10%. That isn't very good if your sinuses are used to the 40-60% level. Since we have followed this regimen for many years now, we are able to dispense with the humidifier, as they can be an annoying maintenance item. Drinking water and avoiding alchohol, caffeine and sugar seems to have much the same effect.
2. Take a good OTC antihistamine like Claritin. I like the generic form, loratadine, which is fairly inexpensive. Take it daily for best results. See the label for specifics. It minimizes the watery eyes, itchy palate, and excess mucus flow through the nose, according to it website. NasalCrom, another OTC, can be useful as a preventative, before you get exposed, according to the www.rxlist.com. Flonase is good if the pollens got ahead of you are causing a lot of pain.
3. As soon as you get a headache from the cedar pollens, take your favorite anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin, Advil, Excedrin, Tylenol. It slows the pain without unduly dehydrating you and hopefully prevents the inflammation known as infection.
4. Stay indoors during the windy days when the wind is from the north.This cuts down on breathing the really high pollen levels and the driest air. Hopefully you have the humidifier so that inside is now more humid than it is outside.
5. Limit your caffeine, alcohol, sugar intake, which is hard around the holidays and the Super Bowl. Drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated really helps and can counteract the times when you do partake, like parties. This is especially true if the prescription medications you are taking, like me, also dehydrate you. Ask your pharmacist if you are not sure.
6. I spray saline solution up my nose when I get the headaches or malaise. It safely hydrates the sinuses and washes out any pollens, including where it goes down the throat. You can experiment with brands, but my favorites are Ayr and Ocean Breeze brands. I find that they are the most effective and also the most expensive. The HEB or Target house brands are OK, too. If it seems too weird to spray stuff up your nose, it was to me, too. I got desperate and finally tried it. Now I do it regularly, as needed. Many people also learn to squirt a lot of warm saline solution into their sinuses when they are irritated to help heal it.
7. We snore. This is characterized by natural restrictions of the nasal passages, especially at night, when fleshy parts of the sinus relax and/or move. When these tissues get irritated, they often expand, closing off the nasal passage, drying the sinuses out even more. We use nose strips nearly every night, but find it is even more important during the pollen season. My wife finds the entire above useful during the Oak pollen season, too. You often see these nose strips on football players during close ups during football games. Breathe Right is the originator of the strips, but you can now get less expensive generic strips at Target, H-E-B, and Wal-Mart.
My regimen includes keeping our bedroom air purifier serviced, wearing the nose strips nightly, taking ibuprofen and saline solution as needed, drinking extra water and taking loratidine daily. I stay inside during the heaviest north winds, but still get outside without too much trouble... I just drink extra water and clean out my nasal passages with the saline (salt) sprays when I get inside. Some also get the dust masks if they must work outside during "pollen storms". This all works well for other major pollens, including Oak.
The above is a graph of cedar pollen levels based on the information that Dr. Ratner reports. The time period is basically from Christmas to Valentine's Day. The yellow is pollen levels. The red is the level considered "high". It is very similar, year after year. So far in 2017, levels of 29,000 have been recorded, many times what is considered "high".
Make sure you find out whether you have an allergy or not. Treating an allergy is different than an infection. A sinus infection can morph into a head cold with sore throat, coughing, bronchitis, and even pneumonia. This web page is not a substitute for seeing a medical doctor.
The following table from WebMD can help you determine whether you have a cold or an allergy: