Around this time of year, most of us here in the U.S. don’t give much thought to pollen. For much of the country, trees are dormant and most of the pollinating plants are dead. In certain parts of the country, particularly south Texas and other parts of the Southwest, December is the peak month for juniper (cedar) pollen.
Junipers are dioecious trees, which means they have both male and female trees. During late summer and fall small green conelets will begin to form on each, and after about two to three months these conelets mature. The male trees will release grains of pollen that range in size from about 20 to 30 microns, smaller than pine pollen and easily small enough to become airborne, wreaking havoc for allergy sufferers miles and miles away. Because there are several species of junipers that release pollen at different times throughout the Southwest, the pollen season for these trees can start as early as December and last as late as April.
So for allergy sufferers the winter months can mean not only spending the holidays with family and friends but also dealing with allergic rhinitis. Symptoms are very similar to that of other pollens and can include itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, nasal blockage, headaches, sore throat and even partial loss of sense of smell. Other related conditions can include loss of sleep, poor concentration, irritability and fatigue. Due to high toxicity, most types of juniper pollen have the tendency to cause severe reactions in those affected.
As with most pollen allergies, one of the best ways to limit reactions is to reduce your exposure. Keeping the doors and windows closed as well as regular replacement of HVAC filters can help keep the pollen out of their inside your home. Regular dusting and vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum cleaner can also help reduce pollen in your home.
If you going out and about, the pollen count is generally heaviest from early to late morning, so if possible try to arrange to be out after noon. This isn’t a possibility for many of us, but even at its heaviest you can greatly reduce your exposure with the use of a good allergy mask. In particular, you want to look for masks that seal well around the face and provide at least N95 (or equivalent) filtration. This means the mask, when properly fitted, will filter out 95% of particle allergens 0.3 microns or larger. For the best filtration, look for N100 or P100 masks. These types of face masks provide full HEPA filtration (99.97% for particles 0.3 microns or larger).
While juniper pollen can be very harmful to those who are sensitive or allergic, there are always a few simple steps that you can take to reduce your exposure and help make the New Year an allergy free one!