Allergist offers tips on dealing with cedar allergy season

As we enter winter in Central Texas and Christmas coming soon, one of the biggest problems for allergy sufferers, adults and kids alike, is mountain cedar, which produces pollen in the wintertime and grows plentifully in the hill country.

Up to 20 percent of area Texans suffer from cedar pollen allergies. This season is shaping up to be particularly bad, according to news reports. Recent fall rains coupled with north winds blowing through could trigger suffering sooner than usual in December.

“Allergies to cedar pollen are so significant that they’ve been dubbed ‘cedar fever’ says Thomas Leath, MD, allergist at Scott & White Healthcare – Round Rock. “The mountain cedar trees are everywhere in this region of Texas and they produce enormous amounts of pollen leaving some sufferers miserable.” However, if you’re symptomatic to where it is affecting your quality of life, you don’t have to suffer and there are some treatments your physician may be able to recommend for relief but you have to start early.

If you’re experiencing sneezing, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes and congestion, your primary care doctor can typically suggest over-the-counter remedies, which includes antihistamines or salt-water rinses for the nose.

“If that doesn’t help, your doctor may recommend a prescription nose spray like Flonase or Nasonex for symptom relief,” says Dr. Leath.

Lastly, if you’re still not getting relief, seeing an allergist and getting regular shots may be recommended by your physician, which can be effective in 70 to 80 percent of patients. For cedar allergy, this involves getting regular injections of cedar pollen proteins that increase over time to help desensitize your body to its effects.

“If a patient knows they have a history of sensitivity to cedar, we need to get them treated early; the earlier the better,” says Dr. Leath. “If we can get them on medication before the season starts, we can help keep things manageable through much of the season.” Leath goes on to say that “if you come to me, though, at the peak of cedar fever season (January) then may not be able to do as much to help you.” Your immune system needs at least six to 12 months of allergy shots to build up immunity to specific triggers like cedar.

The cedar allergy season in Central Texas is caused by a few different but related plants. The plants are so closely related that the pollen they produce is almost identical under a microscope. The male trees appear to “smoke” as they release pollen from tiny cones. The female trees produce clusters of blue/green berries. The season typically lasts from December to February, peaking in mid January.

As for why some people suffer from allergies like cedar more than others, Dr. Leath says it’s mostly related to “genetics.” “You may be genetically prone to getting allergies, but you also need to be living in a high-allergy environment, typically, in order for you to develop a problem,” says Dr. Leath.

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