When we think of allergy season, fall and spring comes to mind, but not so much winter. Yet this December, January, and now into February, patients have been coming into our allergy clinic in the suburbs of Phoenix complaining of some of the worst allergy symptoms all year. Typical complaints include sneezing, itchy nose, and particularly, very itchy eyes.
When patients undergo testing for allergies, many show sensitivity to a number of different allergens such as plant pollen, mold, foods, and animal dander. However, in the case of the winter allergy sufferers, the majority show sensitivity to only one thing: juniper, or more specifically, Cupressaceae.
The Cupressaceae are a family of evergreen conifers found throughout the world. Arizona is home to a number of native species of cupressaceae including Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), One Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma), Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) and Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica).
Although Phoenix has a number of ornamental varieties of Cupressaceae used in landscaping, the majority are found at 3000-7000 feet elevation and cover millions of acres surrounding Phoenix on all sides. When conditions are right, a large amount of cupressaceae pollen finds its way into the valley. One of the chief offenders is Arizona Cypress which is very prevalent in the higher areas surrounding the valley and produces pollen November through March.
The pollen produced by the different varieties of Cupressaceae cross react with one another, which means that if you are allergic to one you will be allergic to all. Mountain cedar (Juniperus ashei) is the leading cause of respiratory allergy in South Texas and affects so many with severe allergy symptoms that it has been given it’s own diagnosis, “cedar fever” .