Cedar pollen levels remain near historic highs Tuesday

Weather Blog

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Cedar allergy sufferers can likely vouch for this–one of the highest cedar pollen counts in about a quarter-century was measured Monday morning, and cedar levels remain in top-10 territory on Tuesday.

Our allergy expert partners at Allergy & Asthma Center of Georgetown counted 27,639 grains per cubic meter of air Monday morning. That is among the highest counts in the Austin metro area since 32,000 grains were measured in the mid-1990s. The previous highest count so far this winter was close to 3,800 grains per cubic meter.

Tuesday morning’s count shows another rare reading of 21,058 grains per cubic meter of air.

The last time cedar counts were nearly this high in Central Texas was on Dec. 21, 2018 when the count was 25,270. Here are some of the highest counts on record:

32,000 Mid-1990s

30,961   1/10/06

27,750   1/23/09

27,639   1/6/20

25,270   12/21/18

23,559   1/12/17

23,039   1/19/10

22,600   1/07/01

21,250   1/25/01

21,058 1/7/20

20,096 1/15/02

Dr. Sheila Amar at Allergy & Asthma Center of Georgetown says it’s unusual for mountain cedar pollen to reach more than 20,000 grains per cubic meter.

KXAN graph showing cedar levels so far this season, including the recent significant spike

Dr. Amar maintains the Austin metro area’s only pollen-measuring station certified by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and is the only official counter providing Austin-area data to the National Allergy Bureau.

Camp Mabry has only received 50% of its normal rainfall in the past six months, and has not received more than half an inch of rain in one calendar day since October 24, 2019. Dry, breezy weather is creating a perfect storm for cedar allergy sufferers.

The science behind the suffering

If you see orange-colored, male Junipers…

“It’s about to happen or it’s in the process of happening,” Director of Horticulture for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Andrea DeLong-Amaya said. “The male trees are wind-pollinated so when they’re ready to put out their pollen, they produce copious amounts of it because… they don’t have that precision of getting their pollen to the right plant.”

The right plants are the female Juniper, which produces berries that fall and restart their life cycle.

The males make those allergic to their pollen suffer.

Their strategy is just to get lots of it out there… That’s when it becomes a problem for people. It’s airborne, it’s light, it floats around, it flies up our nose and gets in our eyes and in our hair, and makes us miserable.

DeLong-Amaya

That’s why many suffer allergies during the winter.

Typically, cedar season begins in early December and lasts through February. Late December and early January is the peak of mountain cedar season. Doctors also say that cedar symptoms will typically be worse in the morning, between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Those suffering from what is often called “cedar fever” may experience runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy eyes/ears/mouth and general lethargy. Steps you can take proactively to weather allergy season include:

  • Keeping doors and windows closed
  • Using high-quality air filters in your home
  • Washing your hands and face when you come indoors
  • Being mindful of pets that may bring allergens in from the outdoors

Cedar pollen levels likely peaked Monday but will remain very high at times until heavy rain returns to the area. Prospects of that over the next seven days appear slim.

A doctor’s warning

Dr. Kim Snyder, an emergency room physician at St. Davids Emergency Center in Bee Cave, said it’s important to monitor your symptoms. Cedar season comes at the same time as flu season, so if you feel sick, you should take it seriously.

“If you do run a fever or your throat is very sore or covered in white patches while you cough up phlegm, then actually get in and see a doctor,” Dr. Snyder said.

Although you’ll hear people refer to their allergies as “cedar fever,” Snyder said you typically won’t run a fever. It is commonly called that because of the flushed feeling people will often experience.

“If you do run a high fever, you need to see a doctor,” Dr. Snyder said.

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