Mountain Cedar Strikes Again

If you’re from Texas, you know about the infamous mountain cedar tree. It strikes fear in the hearts of allergic people living in or around the central part of the state. Mountain cedar typically pollinates in December, January and February, and it is singular in its effects. Consider this account from a patient of mine from San Antonio:

Mountain Cedar Strikes Again

(Pixabay / djedj)

“We had heard about Texas allergies before moving to the state, but we don’t typically have a big problem with allergies so we figured we would be fine. The first year, we had no symptoms, but the second year—watch out! They struck the week before Christmas, which was strange because we thought that allergies typically die down in the winter. They came on with brute force, and only one of our four children was exempt. The house was an ongoing chorus of sneezes. We couldn’t stop. We were blowing through tissue boxes as we tried to dam our constantly flowing noses. Our eyes watered and itched uncontrollably. In fact, my oldest son woke up with his eyes swollen and crusted shut each morning, and they oozed throughout the day. Fortunately, we had a road trip planned to Colorado, and we were all too glad to bid Texas goodbye. It took a couple of days of being out of the state for our allergies to clear up, and we hated the thought of returning home for more misery.”

That’s the power of mountain cedar! Its effects have come to be known as “cedar fever,” and in rainy years, it can strike with a vengeance and nearly incapacitate some people. Before we discuss options for dealing with this tree, let’s learn a little bit more about it and how to identify it.

Where does it grow?
Mountain cedar is native to central Texas, but it can be carried on the wind to other parts of the state. It also grows in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and northern Mexico.

How do I spot it?
Mountain cedar isn’t a cedar at all—it’s part of the juniper family. And the “mountain” part is misleading as well since it’s indigenous to central Texas, which isn’t known for its mountains. Mountain cedars are not very tall; most don’t exceed 25 feet. Some look like small trees; others look like large shrubs. A pollinating mountain cedar tree will be topped with many small amber cones. They’re no bigger than a grain of rice, but they can pack a punch. A gust of wind can disturb the pollen in these little cones, and you’ll see puffs of it billowing in the air.

What are the symptoms of mountain cedar allergy?

  • Runny or stuffed up nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Partial loss of smell
  • Swollen, itchy or watery eyes
  • Itchy ears (that may feel plugged up)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

COVID-19 or mountain cedar allergy?
This year’s mountain cedar allergies are bound to cause confusion because many of these symptoms are similar to COVID-19 symptoms (including sore throat, fatigue, loss of smell and headache). If in doubt, the best course is to get a COVID test, but it’s worth noting a few distinguishing factors:

  • Fever, body aches, stomach distress. These symptoms are common to COVID-19 but rarely accompany mountain cedar allergies.
  • Duration. COVID-19 symptoms often start improving in 7-14 days. Allergy symptoms can last for months.
  • Responsiveness to medications. If you take allergy medications (like antihistamines), you should see your symptoms improve temporarily if you have mountain cedar allergies. If you have COVID, however, the medications may not affect your symptoms.

Why does it pollinate so early?
The temperate climate in and around Texas causes trees to pollinate earlier than they do in other parts of the country. Even still, mountain cedar is a very early pollinator and can sometimes be in full bloom before Christmas. Other allergenic trees, such as ash, birch, mesquite, oak and olive don’t usually start pollinating until February or March (or even later in cold parts of the country).

Dealing with Mountain Cedar Allergies
So now that you know a little more about this notorious misery-maker, it’s time to learn how to shield yourself from its effects. Here are some options.

  • Avoidance. You can try to minimize your exposure to mountain cedar by keeping your doors and windows closed (both in the house and car), installing HEPA filters (and changing them regularly), washing your home linens frequently, bathing your pet frequently (if they go outside), and staying inside when pollen counts are high. That said, avoidance is only so effective as microscopic mountain cedar pollens can waft into your home every time you open the door even a crack.
  • Medications. Talk to your doctor about the best medications for your allergies. Your doctor may prescribe antihistamines or decongestants or even corticosteroids to get you through the worst of the season.

If you find your mountain cedar allergies cutting into your quality of life every winter, immunotherapy can help stop the cycle. Whereas medications can mask the symptoms of allergy, immunotherapy is the only treatment that has been shown to affect the underlying allergy itself. It works by exposing your body to the very pollens that it is allergic to so that it can become desensitized to them. After all, there’s nothing inherently bad about mountain cedar pollen. The problem is that your body perceives it as something dangerous (like a germ) and releases chemicals into your body to try and fight it off. It’s these chemicals that cause your allergy symptoms.

This treatment is available in two forms: subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) or sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops). At AllergyEasy, we prescribe sublingual immunotherapy, which delivers the benefits of allergy shots without the hassle of coming into the doctor’s office a couple of times a week for shots. The drops are safer than shots so they can be administered in the comfort of home on your own schedule.

Our allergy drops contain a “comprehensive mix,” meaning that they don’t just treat for a handful of allergies. Rather, they treat for all major allergens—be it trees, weeds, grasses, mold, pets or dust—so that you are shielded from the full range of allergens that you may encounter. Talk to your primary care physician to see if they offer our turnkey allergy treatment program or refer them to us so that we can help them prescribe no-shots, no-hassle sublingual immunotherapy.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.