Reviewed by: UT Health Austin Primary Care Physicians
Written by: Lauryn Feil
Our love for Central Texas is constantly being tested by seasonal allergies. Summertime grass and fall ragweed join forces with winter cedar and spring oak pollen to really challenge us to remain looking and feeling our best all year round. Not to mention the lovely molds and dust that are always present in the air—irritating on more than one level. The sacrifices we Austinites have to make to enjoy the live music capital of the world are immense, but alas, I think we can all agree, worth it. Between 10-30% of the U.S. population suffers from seasonal allergies, but you can get ahead of the game by knowing what’s coming and identifying the best ways to prepare your body to fight the allergy madness.
Know the seasons, know the triggers.
The biggest summertime villain here in Texas is…GRASS. Grass is literally everywhere and breezy summer nights and buzzing lawnmowers during the day ensure there is always plenty of grass pollen swirling in the air. If we have a particularly rainy or humid summer, mold can also spike during summertime. So, unless you breathe something other than air (fire?), it’s essentially impossible to avoid these allergens altogether.
Ragweed is the primary allergy culprit during the fall here in Central Texas, and it’s as nasty as it sounds. This common roadside weed can spread up to 1 billion pollen grains 400 miles out to sea and two miles up in the atmosphere, although most grains fall close to its source. It sneakily releases its pollen in the evening, too, so if you’re relaxing out on the patio enjoying a nice fall night and you feel an itchy or runny nose suddenly come on or start to experience red, watery eyes, you can likely blame our allergy adversary, the ragweed.
Ah yes, the infamous Austin cedar season. If you just moved here, you’ve likely heard your more seasoned Austinites complain about the cedar fever that hits us like a <strike>snow</strike> field plow every winter. There is a deep-rooted rage for cedar in our community, because it can produce allergy symptoms that honestly rival the flu. On cool, sunny days the Ashe juniper trees (Juniperus ashei), or whatever you call them, explode with pollen, sending misery-causing clouds of chaos traveling over 300 miles through our beautiful city. It takes the number one spot on our list of formidable allergy foes.
Budding trees and nature’s return from the dead of winter make spring the most common time for allergies in the country. You might be familiar with that yellow stuff that coats your cars, windows, houses—basically everything. You can thank our oak trees for that. While they are just trying to spread some love, they may take your health down in the process. Ash, elm, pecan, and cottonwood trees also produce abundant amounts of pollen in the spring, leaving us wondering if it’s a dust storm or a pollen storm—both gross.
Now that you know the Austin allergy seasons and the most common plants that trigger them, be sure to learn to recognize common allergy symptoms. Seasonal allergies can produce symptoms that are often mistaken for viral symptoms similar to a cold or the flu, but the treatment for allergies is different. If you have some of the symptoms below, it’s likely you’re suffering from seasonal allergies, which can happen even if you’ve never experienced allergies before.
Common seasonal allergy symptoms include:
- Aggravated asthma symptoms
- Itchy eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and ears
- Increased wheezing, coughing
- Nasal congestion
- Red, swollen, watery, or generally irritated eyes
- Runny nose
How to survive and thrive during the Austin allergy madness.
It’s worth noting, in nature’s defense, that pollen is not actually trying to hurt you, it’s harmless. However, when we breathe it in, our bodies are actually tricked into thinking it’s a harmful invader trying to attack us, and it produces antibodies in response. So basically, our own defense system is what hurts us…what a unique human flaw. Lucky for us, some really amazing scientists and doctors have found the best ways to treat allergies, so you can go about your life and enjoy nature’s gifts instead of loathing them. To ease your suffering during whatever season(s) (hopefully not plural) triggers your allergies, start treatment 2-4 weeks prior to heightened levels of pollen being in the air.
Treatment options include:
- Combination medications—take a decongestant and an antihistamine together for a real magic trick
- Monitor the pollen and mold counts; if you see a spike, take some meds and stay indoors; you can check the daily allergy report here
- Over-the-counter oral antihistamines
- Saline sinus wash
- Stay indoors on dry, windy days when pollen is likely to be in the air
- Steroid nasal sprays
- When home remedies aren’t enough, see your doctor; allergy shots may be an option if other treatments are ineffective
If you’re really serious about avoiding an allergy downfall this year, you may as well print and tape this lovely reminder to your fridge so you know for sure which months to visit your local pharmacy to prepare your body for the upcoming allergy season. If you can’t quite figure out if it’s allergies, a cold, or the flu, play it safe and visit your doctor or (shameless plug?) UT Health Austin! You can make an appointment with UT Health Austin’s Primary Care Clinic or visit UT Health Austin’s Walk-In Clinic anytime Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.
We bid you good luck this allergy season, may the antihistamine force be with you.