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Mountain cedar allergy season right around the corner

By Lori Newman | Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs | Oct. 10, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

It's that time of year again, when people start sneezing and coughing and they don't know if it's from allergies or a cold. One of the most common allergens in central and south Texas is mountain cedar.

The Brooke Army Medical Center Allergy/Immunology staff at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston will offer free mountain cedar allergy testing from 2-4 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Medical Mall for all TRICARE beneficiaries ages 12 and older. People who wish to be tested should stop taking all antihistamines seven days prior.

"The test is called a skin prick test, so there is no needle and no blood," said Army Col. (Dr.) Kirk Waibel, allergist/immunologist. "After the test is placed, which takes about 10 seconds, we wait 15 minutes for the results. If the cedar allergy test shows a reaction, much like a mosquito bite that indicates a likely allergy."

When the test is complete, the patient will be given an information slip with their results and some recommendations to take back to their primary care manager.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the Juniperus ashei, more commonly known as mountain cedar, is found in more than 8.6 million acres in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, but mainly concentrated in central and south Texas. It pollinates when the temperature is close to freezing, usually from November through January.

During this time, pollen from the trees can travel several miles leaving a blanket of yellow dust on everything in its path making people who suffer from this allergy feeling miserable.

The most common symptoms are itchy scratchy eyes, runny nose, congested nose, sneezing and sometimes respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

It is often hard to tell the difference between allergies and a cold early on as many of the symptoms are similar," Waibel said. "While a cold or virus can last for a few days to a week or two, mountain cedar symptoms can last several weeks to months depending on how long the season lasts."

Even though mountain cedar allergy is commonly referred to as "Cedar Fever," a fever or chills are very uncommon.

"Some patients start with allergies but they can lead to a sinus infection," Waibel added. "A runny nose with mucus that is yellow or green in color is much more likely to be a viral illness or sinus infection. Nasal secretions from usual seasonal allergies like mountain cedar are almost always clear."

Some tips to mitigate Mountain Cedar pollen include:
- During the peak season, keep doors and windows closed and run an air filtering unit when the pollen is extremely high.
- Change air conditioning filters at least a few times a year. A HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter will help filter the pollen even more.
- Dust with a damp cloth, and vacuum carpets with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.
- Wash your hands and face as soon as you come indoors.
- Take a shower and change clothes after being outdoors for a long period of time. This will protect from pollen that lands on clothes and in your hair.
- Bathe pets more often if they remain outdoors for long periods of time.
- Wear a dust mask when doing yard work or when you are outdoors for an extended period of time.

"While it is almost impossible to avoid this pollen during the peak months, keeping the windows closed and minimizing time outside on high pollen count days or windy days can be helpful," Waibel said.

Over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants in pill, spray or eye drop form may help control symptoms. Nasal irrigation is a drug-free remedy that can also be used to wash out the allergens and excess mucus. Doctors can also prescribe oral or nasal corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory drugs.

"Most patients find relief with allergy medications," the doctor said. "Some patients who continue to suffer from mountain cedar allergy despite allergy medication may benefit from allergy shots (also called immunotherapy) to help control allergy symptoms.

"In San Antonio we have our winter cedar which leads into the spring oak and elm, then the summer grasses, and fall ragweed, and back to cedar all over again," Waibel said. "On top of that, we have a large amount of mold and some patients are affected by indoor allergens too."

Patients who suffer from allergies should talk with their PCM about treatment options and additional allergy testing. Their PCM can make a referral to the BAMC Allergy/Immunology Clinic or the clinic at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center.