CENTRAL TEXAS — As one allergy season in Central Texas ends, another begins. When the calendar flips to December, cases of cedar fever will be on the rise.
Juniper trees, also known as mountain cedar, break the rules when it comes to pollination. Most trees release their pollen in the fall, but junipers love cold weather. Once December hits, the pollen begins spreading. The spores can cause an allergic reaction, giving rise to the name "cedar fever."
Amy Mersiovsky, director of the Department of Nursing at Texas A&M Central Texas, says the reaction is caused by the immune system overcompensating to defend the body from the pollen.
"Central Texas is really kind of a haven for allergy issues, particularly like with the cedar. And what happens is, our immune system is just hyperactive," said Mersiovsky.
Not only is the winter the prime time for cedar pollen to spread, but it's also when people introduce juniper trees into their homes for the holidays. Tresa McNeal, a hospitalist with Baylor Scott and White, says this can worsen allergy issues for those who already have them, or might lead to someone developing a new cedar allergy.
"Certain people being allergic to cedar and other types of fir trees that are used for holiday decorations can be kind of one symptom," said McNeal.
Despite the name, your Christmas tree won't be giving you any actual fevers. The allergic reaction usually comes in the form of nasal congestion, sneezing, and itchy eyes, although it can extend to your skin.
"It gets on your skin and you get really itchy," said Mersiovsky. "You may break out in some rashes and that sort of thing."
Many of the symptoms have similarities to COVID-19, but it's important to know the difference between the two.
"This is different than COVID, which is usually more likely to have a cough than allergy symptoms are," said McNeal. "Usually is going to have fever, can have some muscle aches, body pains, a more severe sore throat."
A powerful case of cedar allergies may include a slight sore throat, fatigue, and a loss of taste. If you come down with harsh allergy symptoms and you suspect it might be part of a more serious illness, experts say the best thing to do is to get a Coronavirus test.
"Getting tested is always a good place to start," McNeal said. "It's always better to be more cautious than needed."
McNeal advises that at-home testing kits may help provide some clarity, but it's generally better to go to an official testing site provided by a healthcare facility.
Health experts continue to recommend vaccinations against COVID-19 and the flu for the health and well-being of everyone this winter.