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A pollen plague is spreading across Central Texas

Live oak trees are spreading pollen across Central Texas and coating cars with a film of the dust. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

An avalanche of oak pollen is falling on Austin. It's coating the city with a greenish-yellow dust and making many miserable when it gets into their eyes, noses and lungs.

“The ones that are brownish have already opened and let their pollen out. The green ones still have it in there,” said Dr. William Howland at the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin.

Dr. Howland's office in North Austin is shaded by oak trees. Catkins litter his sidewalk and their pollen coats the cars in the parking lot. It's irritating in a lot of ways.

“In Central Texas people have as much trouble in the spring as they do in the cedar season,” said Dr. Howland.

That's because dozens of different types of oak trees are native to Texas and if one makes you sneeze and sniffle they all will.

“If you're allergic to any kind of oak pollen, you're allergic to all kinds of oak pollen,” said Dr. Howland.

Seven-year-old Foster Stewart suffers from the most common symptom.

“I just scratch my eyes,” said Stewart.

His mom will tell you that's an understatement.

“His eyes get crusty and really swollen and watery and he's not able to see very well,” said Kristen Stewart.

Relief for many doesn't require a prescription. Dr. Howland says an effective combination of medicines to try is over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops like Alaway with an over-the-counter nasal spray such as Flonase.

“The number one thing to do is to use a nasal steroid spray every day until the spring season is over,” said Dr. Howland.

Live oaks should stop shedding in two to three weeks, but for some oak pollen sufferers that relief may only last as long as the season.

“So if you move to Austin and you have springtime allergies there's a chance that you could develop winter allergies with cedar or fall allergies with ragweed the longer you live here,” said Dr. Howland.

Oak pollen isn't just getting into people’s noses and eyes, it's also settling on their hair and clothes. Allergy sufferers who have been outside much of the day should wash their clothes and take a shower before they go to bed.

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