Austin’s Sickening Cedar Problem

I’m re-posting this blog post from January, 2014 (and 2016), because it’s just so darn timely. If you are in Austin now and still not sneezing and dripping, don’t count your chickens, yet.   Our annual pollination festival is amping up this week and will continue into February.  The swallows might forego Capistrano, but Austin’s cedars are a loyal lot and they will bloom come hell or high water. Here were my words from my original post (more or less), ringing true as ever:

Among the reasons for not moving to Austin, I bet you think our atrocious traffic problem and lack of mass transit heads the list. Or the lack of affordable housing. Or the high property taxes.

cedar.pollenBut you’d be mistaken. The number one reason not to live in Austin is CEDAR, specifically cedar pollen that pollutes our air and induces the truly abominable cedar fever. “Cedar is juniperus ashei,” allergist Dr. Eric Schultz explained.  “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 worse.  For weeks you can be plagued by sore throat, amazing phlegm production, constant runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, intermittent sneezing attacks, and a hacking cough. A guy who moved from Los Angeles 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 a reporter.

Sometimes the cedar pollen makes its appearance just in time for Christmas and I can’t count the number of New Years Eves that have been ruined by this menace.  Even if I slide by Christmas because of a late pollen release, I could be sneezing my head off by New Year’s.  Having suffered at this time of year for as long as I can remember, it may explain, in part, my bah humbug attitude toward the whole holiday. Our family Christmas pictures display a 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. The best Christmases were those we spent in Dallas celebrating with grandparents.

Like the LA guy, I got weekly allergy injections that consist of ever-increasing doses of the allergens that I am sensitive to with hopes of building up an immunity to them.  You have to go to the allergist’s office to get the weekly shot, and then wait for 15 minutes to make sure you don’t go into systemic shock. If this were to happen, my understanding is that a shot of epinephrine would be quickly administered. (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 with very high pollen counts, I still suffer.  Just not as bad.

So, in the interest of full disclosure to potential Austinites, you must know what else you need when buying Austin real estate.  Your medicine cabinet should have ample room for the following: antihistamines (non-drowsy and drowsy in both pill form and nasal spray), throat lozenges, pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed for 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 nasal irrigationneeded 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 a 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.  Sensitivities to pollen can occur at almost any time.  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 anywhere.  Moreover, there seems to be a controversy about whether cedar trees suck more water from the ground than other trees. Water sucker or not, I think it’s time to start a cedar removal movement.

But Austinites will not advocate the destruction of a single tree, even if it were the last source of hardwood planking for West Austin McMansions. In Austin, we protect all of our trees without discriminating on the basis of color, country of origin, ethnicity, or costs to society.

But cedar deserves that an exception to Austin’s tree loving.  Its pollen makes life miserable for at least half of the city’s populace. Imagine the loss in workplace productivity and the other trees that must be killed to produce more Kleenex and replace the printed page I just sneezed all over.  And public safety is surely in danger with so many people driving under the influence of cedar or all the meds we must take to survive it.

But there could be a silver lining to this cedar fever misery.  If we make a concerted effort to publicize it, maybe fewer people will move to Austin, and this horrible tree can serve a higher purpose. How about a new city moniker: “Cedar Fever Capital of the World?” And then, let’s consider a Cedar Fever music festival at Zilker Park, giving our city leaders another opportunity to authorize the trampling and destruction of park grass.  Only certain musicians could participate — those who are roused from their sick beds to perform, all the while sneezing, sniffling, and tripping on antihistamines. Just like Woodstock!

austin trafficDo you think that if more people around the world heard about our cedar tree problem they’d stay away, find other places to live? If so, I could start tolerating the tree (albeit from a distance). And just maybe, this could be the ultimate solution to our god-awful traffic!!  Let’s spread the word!

About nowandthenadays

Observer of life who writes about Austin, women's issues, history, and politics. I retired as a Texas Assistant Attorney General after almost 40 years in state government in May, 2013.
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