El Niño May Impact Cedar Season in SA

Dec 7, 2015

From Ragweed to Mold, it may always feel like allergy season in San Antonio. But South Texas is just weeks away from the worst of the worst. Cedar. At least that's what we call it.

The pollen from Juniper trees in the Hill Country blows across the San Antonio area, making some people feel miserable. Texans tend to call junipers cedars, which is why we call it Cedar Season.  

To learn more about allergens and what we can expect this winter, TPR spoke to Dr. Paul Ratner. He’s with Sylvana Research and has been tracking pollen counts for 30 years.

Are this year’s allergy conditions are any different?

The only thing that’s really different is the fact that we’ve had a lot of rain and because we’ve had a lot of rain it was probably an increase in the mold count during that period. It’s been an unusual fall in terms of rainfall, I think because of the El Niño. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often, you know it’s probably been eight or 10 years. So, the other thing that happens is that people are affected by changes in barometric pressure. So, when all these fronts come rolling through, if you tend to have sinus problems or airway problems, that change in barometric pressure, people who have those conditions are very sensitive to those changes. Most people with asthma can kind of tell you, or sinusitis, can tell you 12 hours before that the front is coming in. They feel different. The other thing, of course, is we’re in the middle of respiratory virus season, so you kinda got a triple whammy there.

So for people who don’t suffer from seasonal allergies, and they don’t keep track of the season, tell me a little bit about how the seasons run in San Antonio and what people expect in an average year.

Well there are three major seasons, I mean the first one is in the spring, that’s basically trees. But the predominant tree is the live oak. By early May we’ve gotten sort of into our summer pattern and May and June, we typically the only thing we see in the air is grass, which is not really a major pollen. The next big season is ragweed which starts in late August. And usually by the first of November it’s pretty much gone. That’s a significant season. And then of course, the third big season is mountain cedar which can start anywhere from mid December until late December. That’s our major pollen season. It’s the most prolifically pollinating tree in the world. And of course we have mold, all throughout the year depending on how much precipitation and rain we get. So really, other than a month or two in the summer we pretty much have pollen in the air 10 or 11 months of the year.

What do you think we can expect for winter?

In years that we’ve had El Niños, mountain cedar has been, you know, probably below average. No. 1 is because again, because the rainfall that comes with El Niño. And, also, because of the fact temperatures are different as well.

So for people who, sort of, suffer or believe that they suffer from seasonal allergies, how can they tell the difference between allergy symptoms and a cold?

Well, sometimes you can’t. The only thing that makes you think about it is that it always seems to happen around the same time every year, but the only way to really know is to go to an allergist and be tested. But if you won’t notice you have runny nose, nasal congestion, you know, symptoms every year, you know, around Christmas-time and January, then that’s a fairly good bet that it’s mountain cedar. Or, if you only have trouble in the spring or you only have trouble in the fall.

Can you develop allergies later in life, like is there a timeliness to when people start to notice?

Well, you’re born with the genetic predisposition to make the antibodies against certain pollens but you have to be exposed to those pollens. In other words, if you don’t live here you could have a gene for mountain cedar but if you live up in Ohio you’re never going to manifest that allergy. And what happens is when people move here it usually takes three to four years of exposure if you have the predisposition before you begin to have symptoms.

What can people do to help themselves feel better?

Well, there are a lot of really good medications out there. The two main classes of medicines out there that are used are the nasal steroid sprays and there are some of them now available over the counter. And of course the antihistamines, which again, are available both by prescription or over the counter. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to start the medicine even in anticipation or really at the first onset of symptoms and stay on that medicine throughout the season.

Well, Dr. Ratner I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

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