Morgan Kuehler, a junior at the University of Texas, got a terrible runny nose and coughing fit last winter. Kuehler initially thought it was the flu or a cold, but her doctor told her she was just experiencing her first case of cedar fever.
Many new Austin residents like Kuehler, who moved here from Midland, might soon begin feeling like a cold is coming on, though their symptoms might be from Austin's notorious seasonal allergies.
Cedar fever isn't a fever at all, just an allergic reaction to pollen from Central Texas' Ashe juniper tree, commonly known as mountain cedar. Those affected could experience itchy or red eyes, but also suffer stronger symptoms like those from viral infections, such as sneezing or coughing.
But unlike a cold or flu, cedar fever is not contagious, said Robert Cook, an allergist for the Allergy Partners of Central Texas.
"If you have aching muscles, joints, or severe headaches and particularly chills or a fever, it's more likely to be a viral infection or possibly a sinus infection," Cook said.
Austin newcomers might not initially be hit by cedar fever because it could take anywhere between one to six years for a someone to develop the allergy, Cook said.
For Kuehler, cedar fever hit her "like a ton of bricks" her second year in Austin.
David Vander Straten, a physician at UT's University Health Services, said lots of UT students seek help for allergies during their second or third year at UT.
"Sometimes, we kind of just laugh when students from Dallas or Houston come down for these symptoms, and I just tell them 'Welcome to Austin,'" Vander Straten said.
Depending on the severity, cedar fever could be treated with over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines, nasal sprays or rounds of allergy steroid shots or tablets. The shots are most effective for people with severe symptoms, Cook said.
This year, Kuehler is preparing to face a runny nose and "nonstop cough" for the next couple of months with a nasal spray and peppermint essential oils.
"It’s mostly feeling like you have a mild cold constantly," Kuehler said.
Cook said cedar season, which usually begins in mid-December, could last until March, depending on weather. This year's season could be particularly long and severe, thanks to heavy rainfall.
"If it rains before cedar season, we get more cedar pollen," Cook said. "If it rains during the season, the rain washes away the pollen, and that can help people. Cold snaps usually open up cones with spores; so the worst case is when we have a cold snap followed by a windy day."
As a precaution, people should try to stay indoors, change their indoor air filters frequently during the year, and shower after going outside, to wash the cedar pollen from your hair.
Kuehler said adjusting to Austin's allergies has been a nuisance, yet she still tries to explore the city.
"If you really love a place, I wouldn’t let your allergies hold you back from enjoying it," she said.