It’s spring-like outside with sunny skies and temperatures climbing into the 70s.
What could possibly make anyone stay inside?
Mountain cedar, of course, the culprit behind those itchy eyes, runny noses and non-stop fits of sneezing.
“It’s kind of unfair,” said Fort Worth allergist Robert Rogers. “The weather is really pretty but it’s exactly the days we want to be outside that the pollen counts climb.”
Fueled by southerly winds that blow the pollen up from the Hill Country, the pollen counts typically soar from December through February when mountain cedar, also known as ashe juniper, unloads clouds of irritant.
Earlier this month, the pollen counts were kept down by cold, wet weather. But as the temperature climbs, so do the pollen counts.
On Tuesday, the mountain cedar count was 1,643 grains per cubic meter in Dallas, the highest this season and higher than any day last season.
That’s miniscule compared to Tuesday’s cedar pollen count of 6,410 in San Antonio. Last January, San Antonio recorded a whopping cedar count of 22,670.
“If you’re allergic to mountain cedar, don’t go to the Hill Country to get away from it,” said Fort Worth allergist Susan R. Bailey. “Go north or east. Whatever you do, don’t go south.”
The solutions to battling mountain cedar are limiting your time outdoors on warm, windy days and staying on a regimen of medications.
Fort Worth allergist James Haden advises the most serious allergy sufferers to shower and change clothes after being outdoors.
And all of the allergists interviewed said there are good over-the-counter medications to battle allergies. These include antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec.
Along with these medications, over-the-counter nasal sprays like Nasacort, Nasalcrom and Flonase, which will become available without a prescription next week, can all help reduce nasal inflammation.
But Rogers cautions that nasal sprays take time.
“They’re very effective but they’re slow to work,” said Rogers, who is also president of the Tarrant County Medical Society. “The cortisone spray is cumulative. It takes 4-5 days to work.”
For some serious allergy sufferers, the over-the-counter medications won’t be enough and they’ll have to see their primary care physician or an allergist. The most serious sufferers might need to begin a regimen of allergy shots.
So how do you tell if it’s allergies or a cold?
“Itching really helps,” Rogers said. “It’s common with allergies — not a cold. If you have a fever, that’s a sign it’s a cold and most colds last seven to 10 days. If it lasts longer, that can be a clue. Family history is also important. There’s a fairly strong hereditary trait with allergies.”
Relief this weekend?
With a big cool down not coming until Friday, allergy sufferers may have to wait for the weekend to see relief. There’s also a chance for more rain. Haden warns that the mountain cedar count “may be higher tomorrow.”
The University of Tulsa’s mountain cedar forecast on Tuesday concurred, listing the exposure risk as severe for Austin, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth.
“Long-distance travel and dispersal at some distance is expected today and tomorrow,” the forecast said. “With the southerly winds, the most affected areas will be north of the pollinating trees.”
Estelle Levetin, chair of the Department of Biological Science at the University of Tulsa who does the forecasts, said she wasn’t surprised by the high counts on Tuesday.
Her trajectory maps show the pollen blowing straight into the DFW area from the Hill Country.
So how long will it last?
Typically, it starts tapering off sometime in February.
“We may be another three to four weeks away,” Bailey said. “Sometimes we see mountain cedar go into March but it didn’t get off to a late start like last season so hopefully the end isn’t too far away.”
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698
Living with mountain cedar
▪ Keep windows closed at home during the pollen season, especially on windy days.
▪ Keep the home dusted, but the person who is allergic should not do the dusting.
▪ Always shower immediately after working outside or spending time outside. This will get the pollen off your skin and out of your hair.
▪ Wear close-fitting or “wrap-around” sunglasses to reduce pollen in the eyes. Use artificial-tears eyedrops to wash away the pollen.
▪ If you have allergies, take prescribed antihistamines and nasal sprays daily during the season. They work much better to prevent allergy symptoms before they start than to fix the symptoms after they start.
Source: Star-Telegram archives and Fort Worth allergist James Haden