Do trees in your area ever produce clouds of pollen so thick they look like smoke? If you answered yes, you’re likely living somewhere you might catch something called “cedar fever.” (And if you answered no and feel confused—don’t worry, we’ll explain everything.)
Despite the name, cedar fever isn’t a unique disease (and it shouldn’t cause a fever either), but that doesn’t mean it can’t put a damper on your winter. Let’s break down the basics about this so-called fever.
Cedar fever is actually just one of the many regional nicknames for allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. allergies). That means you can’t catch it like a cold or flu, although you can suddenly develop allergies even if you’ve never had them before.
If you’ve experienced cedar fever, it means you have a pollen allergy—more specifically, you’re allergic to the pollen produced by mountain cedar trees, most commonly Ashe junipers. These trees release their pollen from mid-December to mid-February, which is why you might often feel sick during the holiday season.
In the U.S., the Ashe juniper tree (and the cedar fever it causes) can be found in Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. In Texas alone, there are millions of them, and each one has thousands of pollen cones that release the allergen. That’s why the pollen in some of these areas can be so thick that people think the trees are on fire (which is only slightly scarier than what’s actually happening).
When the wind blows, all that pollen can travel pretty far, which is why some people in areas with no mountain cedar trees also experience cedar fever. And the fun doesn’t stop at the border—cedar fever can also be found in Mexico and Japan.
Since cedar fever is actually just a type of seasonal allergies, you’ll recognize it by these classic allergy symptoms:
Of course, identifying cedar fever is easier said than done, especially when you consider that cedar’s pollen season aligns pretty closely with flu season. And on top of all that, you also have to make sure you don’t have COVID-19.
Confusingly, one sign that you’re not actually dealing with cedar fever is a high temperature—allergies generally don’t cause fevers. On the other hand, colds and flus are unlikely to leave you with itchy, watery eyes. You can also get a clue from your body by looking closely at your tissues: Clear mucus is likely to be allergies, while mucus with a color could be a cold, the flu, or a virus like COVID-19. Make sure to get a COVID-19 test if you're at all unsure.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to cedar fever, it’s time to figure out your treatment strategy. Like all types of allergies, cedar fever is chronic, which means there’s no cure—as long as you live around cedar trees, you’ll probably experience roughly the same symptoms every year.
Even though there’s no cure for allergic rhinitis, there are plenty of effective treatments that relieve symptoms, like oral antihistamines, nasal sprays, and eye drops. You can also try to avoid your symptoms entirely by keeping an eye on cedar pollen counts (a pollen tracking app can help), and staying indoors with your windows shut when the count is high.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a very efficient lumberjack, you’re not going to be able to uproot all of the cedar trees from your life. (And wouldn’t your view be so much less impressive without them?) But you can learn to live with them without spending every winter feeling miserable.
Be sure to talk to your doctor about your symptoms to make sure you’re not dealing with something more serious. Once you know it’s allergies, you can rest assured that the right combination of FDA-approved treatments is all you need to get back to enjoying the holiday season.