Allergy Seasons in Austin

Pollen and Mold Are Year-Round Problems for Many Austinites

Cedar pollen
Cedar pollen is sometimes mistaken for smoke. Kazuo Ogawa/A.collection/Getty Images

Austin is a tough city for those who suffer from allergies. Below you'll find information about all four of Austin's allergy seasons, including the one that causes "cedar fever" in people who don't typically have allergies:

Spring

Allergies are most common in the springtime throughout the country. Nature bursts forth in all its glory, and flowers and trees spew pollen upon the masses. In Austin, the most visible spring allergen is oak pollen. It coats cars and patio furniture in a fine yellow powder. When the light hits the pollen just right early in the morning, it looks like it’s actually raining oak pollen. Ash, elm, pecan and cottonwood trees also produce copious pollen in the spring.

In May, the air is often thick with the “cotton” from cottonwood trees; it also has a nasty habit of clogging up air-conditioner intake vents. This fluffy stuff is not pollen; it’s a transport system for seeds. Nonetheless, allergies flare up when it’s in the air. At this time of year, Austin also receives unwelcome visitors from foreign lands: smoke from large-scale agricultural burning in Central America and sometimes even dust from Africa. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a particulate matter forecast and tracker on its website.

Summer

Grass is the predominant pollen in the summer, and humming lawnmowers all over town ensure that there’s always plenty of it in the air. If it’s rainy, the mold will also spike in summer. But even if there are several months without rain, there’s always a little mold in the air.

Fall

Ragweed is the primary culprit in the fall. In some years, the weather stays mild throughout the fall, leading to a kind of second spring, with even more allergens. Whereas most pollens spike in the morning hours, ragweed has the evil tendency to release its pollens at night. 

Winter

When plants and trees in the rest of the country are going dormant, Austin’s mountain cedar trees are just getting warmed up. Also known as Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei), whatever you call it, this tree produces the pollen from hell. On cool, sunny days, the trees actually appear to explode with pollen, sending misery-causing clouds throughout Austin. Under a microscope, the cedar pollen looks like a tiny medieval mace, and that’s exactly what it feels like inside your nose. Even people who don’t suffer from allergies the rest of the year often catch “cedar fever.” The allergic reaction caused by cedar pollen can sometimes feel just like the flu, creating symptoms such as fatigue, severe headaches and body aches.

 

Local Herbal Options

Two local companies have stepped up to meet the demand for allergy treatments that don’t require strong drugs or steroid nose sprays. Herbalogic has developed a blend of herbs that many people swear by. The Easy Breather formula is based on ancient Chinese herbal blends with an intriguing addition: the shells left behind by cicadas after they molt. If you don’t like the idea of consuming crunched-up cicada shells, you might want to try the options available at the Herb Bar. The Herb Bar Special Blend Spray is a propriety blend aimed at protecting you from Austin’s allergens.

Many people say that two sprays a day keep their symptoms at bay. 

Year-Round Air Quality

Since the city doesn’t have much heavy industry, most people don’t associate air pollution with Austin. However, millions of cars on the road every day combined with extreme heat can cause excess ozone to build up in the air. Windless summer days tend to have the highest ozone levels. Complicating matters, from May to August, polluted air from far away finds its way to Austin. In parts of Mexico and Central America, farmers prepare their fields for planting every year by burning the remains of the previous year’s crop.

This creates massive plumes of smoke that blanket huge swaths of Texas. At about the same time every year, a massive cloud of Saharan dust travels all the way from Africa to exacerbate allergy problems in Austin. In addition to dust, the clouds carry allergens that may cause further irritation. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) produces an online map that shows the concentrations of ozone and other particles in the air. The map is updated hourly. Combine the TCEQ map with KXAN's daily allergy count, and you'll at least have a few clues about why you're feeling miserable on any given day.