Keep Asthma, Allergies at Bay for the Holidays

SATURDAY Dec. 5, 2009 -- They're not Scrooges, but people with allergies and asthma can have bad reactions to certain holiday traditions and need to take special steps to prevent sneezing and wheezing, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

Those who are allergic to live evergreens may choose to decorate with artificial plants, but both live and artificial trees can trigger symptoms, experts say. They offer the following hints to help people avoid allergy and asthma symptoms over the holiday season:

  • Some allergies are triggered by terpene, which is found in the oil or sap of live evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands. Other allergy sufferers may react to mold or pollen on trees and natural decorations. The ACAAI suggests washing pollen and mold off live trees, especially the trunk, with a garden hose and leaving the tree in a bucket of water in the garage or a covered porch while it dries. Wear gloves when handling the tree to protect against contact with sap.
  • For those who are allergic to dust and mold, even artificial trees can be a problem if they haven't been stored properly. Because dust and mold can accumulate on these items, it is a good idea to wash the tree outside before setting it up inside the house for decorating. The best way to store an artificial tree is to place it in an air-tight bag or container.
  • Ornaments and other decorations can also gather dust and mold and are best stored in air-tight containers. Thoroughly clean each item before putting it on display.
  • Artificial snow spray shouldn't be used indoors because it can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. Other potential triggers include scented candles, potpourri and other scents, and wood-burning fireplaces, the ACAAI warns.
  • Food allergies are another potential problem during the holidays. Those with food allergies should ask party or dinner hosts about the ingredients used in each dish. It is also a good idea to prepare a dish you know is "safe" for you to eat and bring it along to share. When hosting a gathering, talk to guests in advance about food allergies.
  • When traveling, remember to pack your asthma and allergy medications. If the trip requires air travel, keep those items in a carry-on bag. Bringing a pillow and mattress cover is recommended for those affected by dust mites.

Stress doesn't cause allergies or asthma but can weaken your immune system. Make sure you take time in your busy holiday schedule to stay on top of your allergy and asthma symptoms so that illness doesn't ruin your holiday plans. People with asthma should talk with their doctor about getting a flu shot, the ACAAI recommends.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about allergies and asthma.

Posted: December 2009


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