Have Austin's famously brutal allergies left you wondering if you've contracted COVID-19 this year? If so, you're not alone because residents new and old have been hit hard by allergies this fall.
Austin, with its warm climate and windy rolling hills, is the perfect breeding ground for wind-blown pollen all year long, according to Texas Children's Specialty Care Austin allergy and immunology specialist Dr. Alison Humphrey.
"A lot of (native) trees, grasses and weeds, they depend on wind to blow their pollen around to pollinate themselves," Humphrey said. "They tend to be really fine particles that blow for long distances but that also means those really fine particles can go easily up our nose, in our eyes and down into our lungs."
Allergies have me like... pic.twitter.com/TTAG4aZfhM
— Matthew J. Fahey (@Mattnetic) November 2, 2021
On top of that, allergy symptoms can be extreme depending on your predisposition to reactions and can feel eerily similar to COVID-19 symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the two apart before you go running to the doctor.
While most cities get a break from their allergies when the weather cools down, Austin's temperate winter is a double-edged sword. Austinites don't really get a reprieve from seasonal allergies—according to Humphrey, you can expect sniffles all-year long if you're unlucky.
A year of allergens
Potential allergens are present in Austin all year long and even though cedar is famously inflammatory, Humphrey said she gets just as many patients for ragweed and oak allergies.
"I think cedar definitely gets the press because it's during the holidays and the counts can be so astronomical, making people feel so, so, so crummy," Humphrey said. "Especially for fall, ragweed, alternaria mold and spring oak, I would say are our top allergens."
Ragweed season is tapering off, usually spanning July-October, but Humphrey said it is lingering a bit longer than normal this year. Humphrey tells her patients that the dreaded "cedar fever" will resume from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day and after that, oak pollen takes over through May.
Though grass pollen can bother residents year-round, it starts to germinate around May. Mold is prevalent all year long, especially in the colder months and after it rains. After that, the cycle continues anew.
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According to Humphrey, one of the first questions she asks patients is if they recently made a move to Austin, and if so, where did they move from. Since so many of the allergies suffered by residents come from plants native to Central Texas, newbies usually develop allergies within the first few years of being here.
Even if you're a lifelong local, you can still suffer a reaction to Austin's native plants. There is one key differentiator between allergies and COVID:
"If you're super itchy, it's more likely it's allergies. If you take over-the-counter allergy meds and you get relief, it's more likely allergies," Humphrey said. "On the flip side, if you've got a fever, if you have chills, body aches, a really bad persistent cough or if you have a big change in your sense of taste or smell, for sure that's when you'd want to see a doctor and get a COVID test."
Itchiness in your eyes, nose, face, throat and skin is a telltale sign unique to allergies, according to Humphrey, but the two illnesses share a variety of symptoms. Congestion, runny noses, postnasal drip and a cough can be present in both cases but Humphrey said you should seek help when you feel feverish.
Start by giving your home a regular scrubbing, especially for those things you don't normally think about cleaning like throw pillows and rugs that harbor allergens. During your peak allergy season, take a shower after you've been outside and if you took your animal with you, clean them off as well. Many locals eat local honey daily to naturally aid their allergies—the more hyperlocal the pollen, the more it will help.
The best introduction to over-the-counter medication for allergies is a nasal steroid like Flonase or Rhinocort, according to Humphrey, and you can add an oral antihistamine like Zyrtec or Allegra for more severe allergies. If you're still struggling with allergies on top of that, Humphrey says you may want to check in with a doctor.
Cedar fever is just around the corner so keep those allergy meds close!
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Is the key to a new Sixth Street making it more like Broadway?
In Nashville, Tennessee, the mix of bars, restaurants and honky-tonks playing live music on the major thoroughfare of Broadway keeps the city’s downtown lively even as other parts of the area bring in office workers and residential units.
Crissy Cassetty, director of economic development with the Nashville Downtown Partnership, says she thinks Nashville has always kind of compared itself to Austin, and that Broadway is their Sixth Street.
“That's where the majority of our live music is. We have several artists and venues downtown,” Cassetty said, noting music spaces from country stars Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.
“Over the years, our smaller, local honky tonks have kind of transformed into bigger entertainment venues that take multiple floors, and levels,” Cassetty said. “The growth and the attraction of Broadway hasn't slowed down forever.”
In Austin, the pandemic took a toll on Sixth Street and other parts of downtown. A recent report by the Downtown Austin Alliance noted that pedestrian foot traffic has started to return to downtown nightlife districts, including East and West Sixth. Total monthly visits surpassed 200,000 on West Sixth in October 2021, beating out the visits in that month in 2019, though East Sixth slugged behind the 2019 total. On the progress of recovery for downtown entertainment districts, the report says, “the live music economy continues to suffer as ticket sales and attendance at shows remain depressed,”
Public safety concerns haven't helped with a revival of Sixth Street. Sunday marked a year since a mass shooting that led to 14 injuries and one death. On the last day of SXSW this year, another shooting left four injured. To address incidents like these, the city has moved forward with a Safer Sixth Street initiative to tackle gun violence, ensure EMS can care for patients quickly and look into more seating and dining in the area, among other practices.
But investments from commercial agency Stream Realty aim to transform the district by adding improvements between Neches and Sabine streets. Caitlin Ryan, the head of the Austin office says Sixth Street is the city’s special tool in the center of downtown.
“If I can fast forward 10 years, I think we look back, and we've made a significant change and Sixth Street is not only a place for night, but also the day,” Ryan said. “But it's evolved from not only our city council preservation asset, historic landmark, but everybody in our city, the music commission, coming together to form a street that our city can be proud of.”
For Broadway’s public safety approach, Cassetty says groups like the mayor’s office, police department and the convention and visitor’s bureau have the common goal of making the street feel clean and secure.
Still, she described the matter of keeping nightlife alive while also keeping the area safe and friendly as an “ongoing battle.”
“The more successful an area becomes, you just have to figure out how to balance all of it. Especially when you're in a downtown footprint, that balance of the play, along with the residential population and the workforce population,” Cassetty said. “And making sure you don't upset the residents or the employees because they're a big part of the downtown culture. You don't want to lose that because you have a successful entertainment district.”
Aside from that, improvements also involve infrastructure. Julie Fitch, chief operating officer of Downtown Austin Alliance, said they’d like to see investment from both the private sector and the city in rebuilding the infrastructure of Sixth Street. Part of the vision from Stream involves introducing wider festival sidewalks, only three lanes of traffic and the construction of four- and five-story buildings.
The entertainment elements will remain, which Fitch said is fantastic.
“I think that with the opportunity that comes with this level of investment, it really has a chance to expand Sixth Street’s appeal to a wider variety of audiences,” Fitch said.
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Travis County is hosting a free Juneteenth gathering filled with food trucks, dancing and activities for all ages in celebration of freedom. The theme is “Homecoming: Meet us at the gathering spot."
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday | 📍 Lower level parking garage, 800 Lavaca St.
Start your weekend at the ballgame! This week Round Rock takes on the Houston-area Sugar Land Space Cowboys at home. Tickets start at $12 and there will be fireworks after the game.7:05 p.m. Friday | 📍 Dell Diamond, 3400 E Palm Valley Blvd.
Sneakerheads listen up—Music Lane is getting a new fashion boutique, Konnect, by former Longhorn and Gamers First founder Kenny Vaccaro. The boutique will rotate designer brands and luxury shoes.10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday | 📍 The Kollective, 200 Academy Dr.
Honoring the historically Black holiday of Juneteenth, this year’s Freedom Fest will feature a barbecue competition, sling-shot showcase, a performance by the Soul of our City musicians, local food trucks and children’s activities. Best of all, the event is completely free.1-4 p.m. Saturday | 📍 Colony Park District Park, 7201 Colony Loop Dr.
Contracommon and The Little Gay Shop are teaming for a quick pop-up showcasing LGBTQ+ and BIPOC artists. The market was curated by Molly Sydnor to go along with her exhibition, Hysteria.3-6 p.m. Saturday | 📍 Contracommon, 12912 Hill Country Blvd.
The Austin Motel is inviting everyone to dance under its neon lights, pose and relive prom with festive cocktails and Hot Dog King on site. Winner of the Prom Star parade will win a membership to the Austin Motel Swim Club. Tickets are $25 per person.
6-10 p.m. Saturday | 📍 Austin Motel, 1220 S Congress Ave.
Catch some classic, collector, antique, sports cars and more at the monthly Round Rock Car Show. The event is free and open to all ages.10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday | 📍 Old Settlers Park, 2002 Harrell Pkwy.
Join May Magdalene, Mars and Veronica Valentine and special guests for a lively drag brunch you won’t soon forget on the patio at The Volstead Lounge. This event is 21+ and don’t forget to tip your queens!1 p.m. Sunday | 📍 The Volstead Lounge, 1500 E 6th St.