The hustle and bustle of the holiday activities from shopping to hosting and attending parties make this time of year stressful enough without having to think about allergies and asthma. But for the millions who suffer, ‘tis the season of sneaky triggers which can be found in everything from dusty decorations to allergen-laden fare.
“It can be difficult enjoy the festivities when you are sneezing and wheezing,” said allergist Dr. Steven McEldowney, of Allergy and Asthma Care of Blakeney. “But you can still take pleasure in the holiday season if you plan ahead and know what triggers your symptoms.”
To make sure your holidays are misery free, follow these tips from Dr. McEldowney and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI):
- Can the air freshener: Think twice when spritzing air freshener before your next party. 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 instead.
- 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 Grandma or other 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 Fido.
- Taste cautiously: Food allergens can show up in the strangest places – soy in mock caviar, peanuts in pie crust, and 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, cook your bird unstuffed. You also may want to stick to a natural turkey, which contains only turkey and water since self-basting turkeys sometimes have soy, wheat and dairy.
- Sneeze-free gifts: Gift giving for 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.
- Think through the 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 an artificial tree (but be sure to store it properly so it doesn’t get dusty). Also watch out for poinsettias which are problematic for people with a latex allergy since the plant is part of the rubber tree family.