First there was the twindemic. Now there is another potential overlap of illnesses facing Austinites, as cedar fever season nears its peak and the local COVID-19 caseload continues its upward climb.
Cedar fever is a seasonal allergy caused when people inhale the pollen from mountain cedars, drought-resistant evergreen trees common in Central Texas. Pollination occurs between November and March, according to the Texas MedClinic. Allergies tend to be most severe in December, January and February.
Symptoms of cedar fever include a runny nose, fatigue, mild headache, sore throat and partial loss of smell, among others. As a result, some residents may be pressed to determine whether they are suffering from a seasonal allergy or the coronavirus.
"That's really the million-dollar question," said Dr. Jackee Kayser, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Dell Children's Medical Group.
Although cedar fever and COVID share some symptoms, there are ways to distinguish between the two.
"The key difference is the itch factor," Kayser told Austonia, adding that if one has nasal or ocular itchiness it is likely that they are suffering from allergies, not COVID.
On the other hand, symptoms such as fatigue, malaise and fever are likely to point to the coronavirus, rather than allergies.
"Cedar fever is sort of a misnomer," she added. "You really shouldn't have fever with allergies."
When symptoms occur may also hint at the culprit. Austinites who suffer from cedar fever annually shouldn't expect this year to be any different, Kayser said.
In tough cases, where the symptoms don't definitely point to one malady or the other, she encourages Austinites to seek out a COVID test.
"If there is anxiety surrounding patient symptoms, fortunately we're in a place in Austin where we have testing readily available," she said, adding that those who receive negative results can always seek out an allergist for more guidance.
In less severe cases, there are some remedies that may help reduce the symptoms of cedar fever.
Texas MedClinic, which has two locations in Austin, recommends running the air conditioner and regularly dusting and vacuuming during the peak season. Bathing pets and nasal irrigation, such as with a neti pot, can also provide relief.
Kayser recommends those with allergies avoid spending time outdoors when pollen counts are especially high. Closing the doors and windows in one's car and home can be helpful, too.
For those who do spend time outside, she suggests showering—making sure to wash eyelashes, eyebrows and hairlines, where pollen can lurk—upon returning home.
"The other thing that you can do is really just take advantage of some of the good medications that are available over the counter," she said.
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