Cedar pollen peaks Monday; dry, windy weather may only make it worse

5:55 p.m Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 Local

Your nose knows: Austin’s cedar season appears to be in full swing, as concentrations of Ashe juniper pollen on Monday reached the highest levels so far this winter.

According to Austin-based Allergy & Asthma Associates, the cedar pollen count hit 10,441 grains per cubic meter, which is considered “very high” by the allergists’ group. The allergists’ highest count this season before Monday was only 394 grains on Dec. 27.

The American-Statesman’s weather partners at KVUE-TV had a lower but still season-high pollen count of 1,238 grains per cubic meter.

Cedar season — when everything outdoors in Central Texas seems to eventually get a dusting of yellow pollen — begins in mid-December and typically ends by March.

“Pollen grains are released from the male cedar cones when the air is dry and windy,” said Dr. Bill Howland of the Allergy & Asthma Center of Austin. “The tree ‘hopes’ the pollen will reach a female cedar tree (presently covered with blue berries) to make seeds and blue berries for next year.”

Unfortunately, the sunshine, dry air and gusty winds that encourage the trees to shed their pollen grains are precisely what meteorologists say are in the weather forecast this week.

RELATED: Answers to common questions about cedar fever in Austin

Tuesday will probably see more sunshine and daytime temperatures rising to about 68, which is several degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service. North winds that blew into Central Texas on Sunday night will be replaced by warmer breezes from the south by Tuesday afternoon.

Austin should get another day of sunny skies and mild weather Wednesday, with temperatures possibly peaking near 71 — 10 degrees above what they normally are this time of year — forecasters say.

Gusty winds could kick in Thursday afternoon, when a dry cold front is expected to move through Central Texas. Southwest winds will become cooler north-northwest winds of 15 to 20 mph, with gusts as strong as 25 mph.

If you want to minimize your pollen exposure, Dr. Hetu Parekh of Austin Family Allergy & Asthma recommends staying indoors during peak pollen hours, usually early to mid-mornings.

Parekh advises his patients to use a saline rinse on sinuses before taking an inhaled steroid such as Flonase or Nasacort.

Howland said the No. 1 treatment for nasal allergy is a nasal steroid spray.

“These are used once daily and are best if started a week before the pollen gets high,” he said. “These sprays are available over the counter … have no side effects, can be used down to age 2, and are OK for people with diabetes, blood pressure problems” and are not habit-forming.

Parekh also suggested taking an oral antihistamine such as Zyrtec, Allegra or Claritin.

“Consistent daily use is key,” he said.