Not only is the holiday season the most wonderful time of year, it is also the most stressful between hosting parties, visiting family and shopping. And for the more than 40 million Americans that suffer from allergies and asthma, this could also be one of the stuffiest times of year thanks to food allergens at holiday feasts and dusty decorations.
“Allergy and asthma triggers can be difficult to escape during the holidays, especially if you are attending several social gatherings,” said allergist Richard Weber, MD, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “But by planning ahead and treating your symptoms before they start, you can have a sneeze-free holiday season.”
Make your holidays enjoyable and symptom-free by following these tips from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
• Opt for Natural Aromas: While pumpkin, gingerbread and pine-scented air fresheners can be inviting for guests, they can also be hazardous. About one-third of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Studies show VOC exposure even below accepted levels can increase the risk of asthma in children. Open the windows to air out the house, or let the scents from the oven provide natural aromas.
• Beware the Thanksgiving Effect: Even if you’ve become tolerant of your cat or dog, you may find yourself sneezing and wheezing when you return after visiting relatives for the holidays. This flare-up of pet allergies is called the Thanksgiving Effect. Find an allergist who can help you cope with your allergies to Fifi or Fido.
• Feast Cautiously: Food allergens can show up in the strangest places – soy in mock caviar, peanuts in pie crust, shellfish in stuffing – so be cautious about piling up your plate during the holidays. Even turkey can be a landmine. Allergens in stuffing can be absorbed into the meat, so trying cooking your bird unstuffed. You also may want to stick to a natural turkey, which contains only turkey and water, since self-basting turkeys can contain soy, wheat and dairy.
• Avoid the Gift of Sneeze: Exchanging gifts with allergic friends can be tricky. Nickel, a common cause of contact dermatitis, can be found in earrings, necklaces and watches; candy can include nuts or other allergens; and perfume and other items with strong scents can cause some people to break out in a rash. Instead, consider gifts such as dessert plates, wine glasses and books.
• Be Selective with Décor: Everyone loves a festive house, but watch out, hidden allergens can lurk in the decorations. Last year’s decorations may be dusty – as in full of allergy-triggering dust mites – if you didn’t store them in airtight containers. Some people are allergic to terpene found in the sap of Christmas trees, or are bothered by the mold that lurks on the trees. Consider artificial trees, wreaths and garland. Also watch out for poinsettias which are problematic for people with latex allergies since the plant is part of the rubber tree family.
Those with allergies and asthma can keep track of symptom triggers and share this information with their allergist to find relief by visiting MyNasalAllergyJournal.org.
Household dust mite
Contacts and sources:
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI)