Achoo! Sneezy kids might be getting cedar fever

Updated Jan 03, 2014

If your children have started getting itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose, an old nemesis, cedar fever, might be invading again.

This year is expected to be a bad cedar fever season, which typically hits around now, when the misnamed male mountain cedar trees — really the ashe junipers — try to pollinate the female trees. The years of drought followed by rain have caused cedar trees to be thick with pollen. Only an ice storm or a lot of rain could dampen the season.

But before you start blaming the mountain cedar, let’s look at who gets cedar fever, what it is and how to treat it, with the help of Dr. Bradley Berg, medical director for pediatrics at Scott & White Clinic in Round Rock, and Dr. Juan Rodriguez Ramos, an allergist at Austin Regional Clinic.

You have to grow into it

Babies and toddlers don’t get seasonal allergies like cedar fever, right? There is a lot of truth to that, the doctors say.

Babies don’t fully develop an immune system until about 6 months old. They then have to be exposed to cedar pollen and develop a sensitivity.

“It’s unusual to see allergies before age 2,” Rodriguez Ramos says. Typically, a child will first develop an allergy to animal dander or dust mites before they pick up a pollen allergy like cedar fever.

Cedar fever and other allergies also are highly genetic, so if you’re a parent with cedar fever, don’t be surprised if the kids also get it eventually.

How do you know it’s cedar fever?

Cedar fever doesn’t come with a fever, unlike colds, which typically will bring a 100-degree to 101-degree fever, or the flu, which brings a 102-degree to 103-degree fever. Sometimes cedar fever will cause the sinuses to get backed up and lead to a sinus infection, which could cause a fever, but the fever is not a direct result of the allergy.

Cedar fever does make you feel rundown and comes with itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. Because it’s cold and flu season, if you have any doubt, visit a doctor quickly to rule out flu, strep and RSV, all of which are very prevalent right now.

How can you treat cedar fever?

Children and adults have very similar treatment plans. First, try to limit your pollen exposure. This might be the month you stay indoors with the windows closed. If you do go outside, wash off the cedar pollen when you come in. Wash clothes, skin and hair especially.

If you have children who typically take a morning bath or shower, switch to the evening to get all the pollen off before heading to bed.

Clean out the nose as well by using a saline rinse like a neti pot or rinse bottles to get rid of the lingering pollen. Make sure you have a rinse bottle that is made for children.

If you have children who you know are going to suffer, start now (or really a couple weeks ago) by taking a daily over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra. They all work the same, but some people respond to each of them differently. Berg recommends trying the cheapest generic brand first. If it doesn’t work, switch to another one.

The next step after the over-the-counter medicines is a prescription nasal spray, which will take a couple of days to start working.

Nothing’s working … now what?

It’s probably time to see an allergist, who will go through these previous steps as well and then help you consider if allergy shots might be the next step. Those shots will be no help for this year but can help you build an immunity to cedar for the following season.

Don’t forget to remind kids of good sanitation, even if cedar fever isn’t contagious. Wash hands regularly. Cough into their elbows, not their hands, and use tissues when they blow their nose. (And yes, they have to throw those tissues away, too.)