Burning Down the Trees

by Jeanine Adinaro on January 12, 2011

in Easy Breather: Herbs for Nose & Sinus

This cedar tree is not on fire- it’s releasing pollen

I am not now, nor have I ever been allergic to cedar pollen. To understand any of the rest that follows here, you must be clear on this point.

On a rare warm June day in historic Cambridge, Massachusetts, I found myself wandering the streets enjoying the all too elusive sunshine. Just hanging around, eating some ice cream, chatting with my companion, we came upon a burning house. The fire department was already on the scene, drenching the structure, strategically breaking windows, and suggesting in no uncertain terms that the crowd back the hell up.

As it happened, my companion had once been a volunteer firefighter in his hometown. He provided a narration to the events unfolding. Like many buildings in Cambridge, this 3 story home was built in the shape of a box, constructed mostly of wood, and filled with about a hundred years of really flammable household goods like old magazines, paint thinner that never made it to the curb on hazardous waste pickup day and nicotine saturated walls. Things were going passably well for the firefighters until the wind suddenly picked up and with fresh momentum the fire collapsed the already weakened roof. At this point the fire was fully involved- the heat and smoke in the structure were so prevalent that internal access was halted. Having already rescued all the people from the home, the chief in charge ordered all his guys out and changed strategy. They began applying water to the surrounding buildings in an attempt to contain the flames rather than extinguish them.

Along with the rest of the crowd, I stood transfixed at the sight. It wasn’t just the flames licking the skyward or the heat so intense that from 50 yards away it made my cheeks uncomfortably warm that kept us there. It was the sight of a hundred years of domesticity being wiped from the map in a matter of minutes. All told I watched the scene for a little over an hour until the flames died down sufficiently that firefighters reentered the building.

The next morning I awoke to find my nasal sinus passages and lungs were profoundly offended by the previous day’s activity. Even though I had not noticed, the time spent breathing in the smoke and recently charred particulate matter damaged my respiratory system. In response, my head was full of mucus and I was coughing like a long time smoker. This was body’s attempt to heal damaged tissue. The cough was my lungs’ desperate attempt to remove unwanted particulate matter and the mucus was my nose’s equivalent of the ooze that comes off scraped skin during the healing process.

As I mentioned, I am not allergic to cedar pollen. Hold me down against my will for a scratch test and you will not get an inflammatory reaction. Why then is my head full of snot and my sneezing impressive enough to encourage my two-year old son to mimic me by saying, “Achoo. Achoo. Boogies everywhere!”? For the last several weeks here in Austin the cedar pollen counts have reached record high levels. I truly believe that I am having what appear to be cedar allergy symptoms because there is so much particulate matter in the air my lungs can’t help but turn on the healing mechanisms.

Whatever short term comfort a decongestant like pseudoephedrine might provide will only delay the healing action because of its drying action. Of course this insight hardly helps with the fact that my household is now completely out of tissues. What’s a stuffy headed girl to do?

Photo by aheatwole

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