Among the reasons for not moving to Austin, I bet you think our atrocious traffic problem and lack of mass transit is at the top of the list. Or the lack of affordable housing. Or the high property taxes.
But you’d be mistaken. The number one reason not to live in Austin is CEDAR, specifically the pollen that cedar trees produce resulting in the truly abominable cedar fever. “Cedar is juniperus ashei,” allergist Dr. Eric Schultz told a local television reporter recently. “It’s one of the worst allergens, or most potent allergens on the planet. Here in central Texas it’s rampant, especially in Austin.”
You might think I’m talking about a runny nose or some sneezes here and there. Again, you’d be wrong. It’s far beyond that. For weeks you can be plagued by sore throat, amazing phlegm production, a nose that won’t stop running, watery, itchy eyes, intermittent sneezing attacks, and ultimately a hacking cough. A guy who moved from LA to central Texas reported that he had to start allergy shots after encountering cedar. “The fact that I can hold a regular conversation and see you five feet in front of me means it’s made a world of difference so far,” he told the television reporter.
And cedar doesn’t wait to bring us down at a convenient time of the year. No way! Cedar pollen makes its appearance just in time for Christmas, spills over to New Year’s, and stays around until Valentine’s Day, more or less.
I started having cedar allergies as a child, and as a result of being sick every Christmas, I developed a bah humbug attitude toward the whole holiday. My childhood pictures show a young girl with a bright red nose, a la Rudolph, and squinting eyes because she’s struggling to stay awake, being drugged to the gills with antihistamines. Needless to say, the best Christmases were those when we went to Dallas to visit grandparents.
Because of cedar fever, I’ve continued to dread this time of year and have been reluctant to plan much, particularly any outings on New Year’s Eve. I just never know if I’m going to be sick or not. Even if I slide by Christmas because of a late pollen release, I could be sneezing my head off by New Year’s. Just imagine being in a club with a band blaring or a ballroom with a million noisemakers going off while your head and sinus cavities are pounding in painful rhythm!
Like the LA guy, I get weekly (or so) allergy injections that consist of ever-increasing doses of the allergens which I am sensitive to with hopes of building up an immunity to them. For the last 5 years I’ve been going to the allergist’s office to get the weekly shot, and then I have to wait for 15 minutes to make sure I don’t go into systemic shock. If this were to happen, my understanding is that a shot of epinephrine would be quickly administered to me. (I always envision John Travolta giving Uma Thurman a shot in her heart in Pulp Fiction!) But I digress. How effective are these shots? Usually, they work to minimize my reactions, but this year, with record level highs pollen counts, any dent they are making seems pretty minimal.
So, just to fully inform potential Austinites what they may be in for, here’s a look at the medicine cabinet of a cedar fever sufferer: antihistamines (non-drowsy and drowsy in both pill form and nasal spray), throat lozenges, pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed which you need a picture I.D. to purchase), cough medicine, analgesics, eye drops for allergies, and guaifenesin (Mucinex, Maximum Strength is best). And that’s just the first tier. Second tier drugs are those needed after your allergy attack has matured into a sinus infection or bronchitis. Then, you will probably need a steroid injection or prednisone pills, along with antibiotics and perhaps a respiratory anti-inflammatory (e.g. Singulair). Along the way, you may want a Netti pot/nasal irrigator or bottle of saline solution to wash out your nasal passages and a cold mist humidifier. Did I mention Kleenex? Lots of Kleenex.
Now, I hear some of you saying, “This is not going to happen to me – I’ve never had any allergies, so I’m probably immune.” Not necessarily so, I assure you. And if you think you can predict anything after a single cedar season, again, you are misinformed. It takes about seven years before new residents fall prey to Satan cedar. But, at least you can say you had seven good years.
But wait! It’s not all about you. If you have children, why would you subject them to this torture? They can get cedar fever, just like I did, and if they are miserable, you will be miserable. And if you are in cedar fever hell already, you will be doubly miserable when your kids are sick and you are washing out their nasal passages and sucking out nasal production (polite word) with those bulb things. There’s nothing more pitiful than a sick kid. And if you have a sick spouse? Quadruple agony!
In short, cedar is the most evil tree ever allowed to spread in Central Texas. Moreover, I’ve seen recent studies showing that cedar trees suck more water from the ground than any other tree. Here we are in the midst of the worse drought ever and wouldn’t you think someone would stand up and say: death to cedar trees!!??
But, of course, you’d be mistaken. No Austinite is going to advocate the destruction of a single tree, even if it were the last source in the world of hardwood planking for a West Austin McMansion. In Austin, we protect all of our trees without discriminating on the basis of color, country of origin, ethnicity, or costs to society.
But why not make an exception in the case of cedar? This indiscriminate tree love is bad for at least half of the city’s populace. Imagine the workplace productivity that is lost and the trees that must be killed to produce more Kleenex and replace the printed page I just sneezed all over. Does it make sense that we’ll all end up with three or four enormous rain barrels in our yards before a single cedar tree is slaughtered at the altar of good health and sufficient water supply?
But I guess I should try to find a silver lining to all the misery related to this tree. I’m thinking that if we really publicize it, fewer people will move to Austin, and cedar fever will have served a higher purpose. How about a new city moniker: “Cedar Fever Capital of the World?” And then, let’s have a Cedar Fever festival at Zilker Park, giving our city leaders another opportunity to authorize the trampling and destruction of park grass. To make our point, we would open it up only to musicians who are roused from their sickbed to perform while sneezing, sniffling, and tripping on antihistamines. Just like Woodstock!
What do think? If more people around the world heard about our cedar tree problem, do you think they’d stay away, find other places to live? If so, I could start loving the tree (albeit from a distance). Just think, this might be the ultimate solution to our god-awful traffic!!
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You are so right! I’ve been hibernating inside the house since mid-December, afraid to go outside and get a face full of yellow cedar pollen. Even so my eyes itch, and my sinuses are going crazy. And yes, I take allegra or somesuch as well. My advice to outsiders: Don’t Move to Austin!
Thanks for your comments, Mary!! I love the solidarity I’m feeling with my fellow sufferers!
Jeffie, another great job and just full of good old American humor. It is called mountain cedar here for some reason but has the same effect. It has been rampant for a month or more now.
You nailed the painful truth about mountain cedar, Jeffee. I hate those trees with a passion. The scourge of cedar fever was one of the main reasons I left Austin when I retired in 2006. But I didn’t move far enough away; when the air is warm and winds are from the south, the pollen makes it to the Metroplex.
P.S. I tried the shots and had a horrible reaction. I had best results with flonase, but even then it was touch and go.
Mikey, I guess 200 miles away is not always far enough. Why hasn’t some Aggie invented a way to keep pollen from emitting and making us sick? I guess they don’t have many cedar trees in College Station.
If you are cursed with an enlarged prostate, the over the counter meds to fight cedar fever is not advised. It is holly hell and nothing will help. I try to alleviate some of the problems by wearing a mask and goggles when I am outside but then you run into those nuts who think you might be a terrorist and under the stand your ground law shoot you and celebrate. Best thing to do is hibernate till all this is over with. I totally agree with your thoughts. Gilbert
Gilbert, I understand the prostate issue…my husband has the same problem, but he has the good fortune to not be highly allergic to cedar. When he must take something for a cold or what-have-you, he has to weigh one misery against the other. Sometimes it’s good to be a girl!