Winter & Holiday Allergies: It’s Snowing, So Why Am I Sneezing?

Winter & Holiday Allergies

More than 40 million Americans are dealing with year-round allergies. For some, winter and the holiday season can be rife with allergy and asthma triggers. Some common holiday allergy triggers, include:

Decorations and Ambiance

From Christmas trees and poinsettias to the flickering fireplace, the ambiance of the season can mean trouble for sensitive individuals.

Christmas Trees and Wreaths.

You may think it’s the tree and other seasonal boughs that cause your holiday allergies, but the miserable sniffling and sneezing is often due to the mold spores on these plants and even the chemicals sprayed on your tree. Additionally, the sap contains terpene and other substances that can irritate skin and mucous membranes and trees may be harboring pollens from their time on the tree farm.

Wear gloves and long sleeves when handling a fresh tree. Try blasting the tree with a leaf blower before bringing it inside, to remove some of the mold spores and pollen. You could also try hosing plants down before bringing them inside, especially the tree trunk.Then place the tree stump in a bucket of water and let the tree dry for few days on a covered porch or in a garage. If you have allergic sensitivities, you may want to steer clear of fresh trees, boughs, and wreaths and even consider switching to artificial decorations.

Artificial Holiday Decorations.

Fake greenery can be a great way to help reduce allergy symptoms, but items kept in damp basements and dusty attics grow mold and collect dust mites as they’re stored throughout the year. Remember to store artificial Christmas trees, ornaments, and other decorations in dry containers, such as plastic bags or the air-tight plastic crates found at home improvement stores. To help make your fake tree allergen-free, give it a wipe-down before decorating with lights and ornaments. Remember to wash your hands after unpacking decorations. If your sensitivity makes you miserable, consider allowing someone else to trim the tree.

Sidestep Poinsettias

Poinsettias, a member of the rubber tree family, are everywhere this time of year. Stay away if you have a latex allergy. Healthcare workers and people with spina bifida who have had numerous surgeries are more likely to be allergic to latex, and one study showed that 40 percent of latex-allergic individuals were also allergic to poinsettias.

Prevent it: If you have a latex allergy, keep the iconic plant out of your house—not only can it give you a rash if you touch it, but inhaling the allergen can lead to serious respiratory problems, like shortness of breath and wheezing.

Snuff the Candles

Candles — so popular for creating a festive glow and filling the home with seasonal scents – are actually a source of indoor air pollution that can trigger sensitivity in allergic and asthmatic individuals. The same is true for air sprays and other types of air fresheners. They can release a range of noxious compounds which can trigger adverse reactions in sensitive patients.

Up in Smoke

The cozy fire in the hearth is a wonderful site this time of year. But smoke is a common asthma trigger. Avoid the gathering around the fireplace and mingle in another room. Obviously, asthma sufferers should steer clear of cigarette smoke as well and should never indulge in smoking.

Food and Drink

Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas mean dining away from home, parties and special holiday foods. There’s a chance you could accidentally eat foods you’re allergic to, be exposed to smoke or imbibe a beverage you could have a reaction to.

Taking the Bite Out of Holiday Food Allergies

The key to managing allergies to food during the holidays is to be aware of what ingredients you are sensitive to –and how they may be used as ingredients in holiday fare— and communicating about your sensitivities. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, etc.), fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat are the foods that account for 90% of all food allergy reactions and show up in many dishes throughout the holiday and end of year celebration season.

Once you’ve identified what you’re allergic to, you need to talk about it, especially during this season of get-togethers. At seasonal gatherings with friends and family, tell them about your food allergies, ask about ingredients in meals and desserts, and ask for help avoiding the foods you’re allergic to. Call ahead and be prepared. Don’t forget to bring your medications with you so that you’re ready to react in an emergency.

School Snacks

If your child has a food allergy, volunteer to provide the snacks for holiday parties at school. That way you can ensure there will be safe foods available your child can enjoy.

Tame the Turkey

Basted or self-basting turkeys can include common allergens such as soy, wheat and dairy. Look for a turkey labeled “natural,” which by law must be minimally processed, and should contain nothing but turkey (and perhaps, water).

Safe Sipping

Tis the season for toasting, but be aware of what’s in your glass. For some people, the sulfites in wine may cause mild wheezing or other symptoms. Also some mixed drinks contain major food allergens which can be a hidden danger for those with food allergies.

It’s difficult to test for sulfite sensitivity, but if you have reactions to dried it could be a sign. Be aware that sulfites can trigger asthma symptoms. Maraschino cherries also contain small amounts of sulfites. Organic wine is a sulfite-free option. Also look out for specialty beers, particularly seasonal ales, which may contain tree nuts. Milk allergy sufferers should avoid Irish crème and white chocolate liqueurs, and egg whites may be used to add froth to specialty drinks.

Indoor Allergies / Mold Spores / Dust Mites

Mold can float in the air and your exposure to it may increase during the holiday season because mold spores love damp evergreens like the wreaths, boughs, and trees we bring inside this time of year. The mold and mildew in decaying leaves only adds to the irritation as we track them inside on shoes and clothes.

Dust mites are a perennial allergy irritant. They can be even more aggravating around the holidays when we travel, spending time in hotel rooms and in other people’s beds.

Cozy Days Indoors

Dust mites are well-known allergy and asthma triggers. Forced-air furnaces circulate airborne dust containing lint, animal dander bacteria, fabric fiber, and food material. Allergies to house dust mites, animal dander and cockroach droppings – are worse in winter when there is less ventilation.

When you’re at home, keep symptoms in check by changing air filters frequently and consider using HEPA filters. Wash bedding in hot water (at least 130° F) at least twice a month, and buy allergen-resistant covers for pillows and mattress. Avoid down pillows and comforters which can be allergenic and also encourage dust mite accumulation. And because dust mites thrive in high humidity, think about using a humidifier/dehumidifier to keep indoor humidity between 30% and 50%.

When traveling, it’s a good idea to take along your own pillow with an allergen-proof cover, or to request a down-free pillow if staying in a hotel or with friends, suggests the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Pets

Pets are indoors more, both at your house and in the homes of friends and family.

When Winter Pet Allergies Pounce

At home. Your pet tends to spend much more time indoors during the winter months, but you can mitigate pet allergies by washing your hands and face frequently, keeping floors swept, and carpets vacuumed. Bathing pets frequently is a great way to reduce dander, but that’s only effective for a few days and can be harsh on your pet’s skin.

While Traveling. The protein in pet dander that causes allergic reactions is so light it can be carried in the air or on clothes and hair — which explains why you’ll find dander in unlikely places like schools, workplaces, and pet-free homes. The best way to prepare yourself for pet allergies when away is to take allergy medications before visiting homes that have pets. You may also want to bring your own pillow in a hypoallergenic cover when staying away from home.

Take Care of You

Remember Your Medication

We know you’re careful about avoiding your allergy triggers, but you can still be exposed to holiday allergens and irritants. So make sure to always carry your allergy and asthma medications, such as antihistamines, inhaler, or EpiPen, with you. If you’re traveling far during the holidays, make sure you have adequate supply to make it through your journey. If checking a bag, it’s a good idea to carry a couple of days’ supply in your carry-on, in case your luggage doesn’t arrive with you. And even when you don’t have symptoms remember to continue taking any daily medications your doctor has prescribed.

Fight the Flu

Tis the season for celebrating in close quarters, but you could pick up more that the latest news during cocktail party banter. Flu germs are everywhere and the illness can worsen asthma. Getting a seasonal flu shot can help protect you from more serious illness.

Avoid Holiday Stress

It’s known that stress can cause asthma to flare, but it may not help your ability to fight off allergies as well. Keep your immune system healthy and it can more efficiently deal with allergy symptoms. It’s important to recognize the effects stress, anxiety, and other tough emotions can have on your body and manage them appropriately. Try yoga, meditation, or massage therapy, get enough rest, stay hydrated and enjoy the holiday season.

From our family to yours, happy holidays from MAAC.

Contact us today to learn how to help your allergic child avoid allergy-induced academic lags.

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