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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With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."