'Tis the Season for Allergies

Allergic reactions due to dust mold or other irritants

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

It's the holidays and that means lots of families, food and cheer. It can also be a stressful time for people with allergies. Decorations, food, pets and even trees can trigger allergies, asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

There are numerous triggers for allergic reactions during the holidays. Due to all the decorations, parties and even the weather chances are you'll experience a few sneezes and allergic reactions before the holidays end. Here are some common causes for allergies and asthma and ways to avoid them.

Deck the Halls with Dust and Mold

Many common irritants come out to join in the festivities during the holidays. Mold and dust are two common irritants that show up as much as relatives do during the holidays. 

As the holidays approach it is time to dust off the decorations. Unfortunately, that's just the problem. Attics, basements or wherever you have stored the various boxes of decorations have been collecting dust for a year can trigger allergic reactions according to Joseph Leija, MD, allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

A simple remedy to dusty, moldy boxes are reusable plastic tubs says Dr. Leija. A quick dusting here and there throughout the year will reduce allergic reactions and increases in asthma symptoms.

Is a Fake or Fresh Tree Right for You

For those who celebrate Christmas, a beautiful green tree is usually the centerpiece of the indoor decoration. The tree itself does not cause the allergic reaction, it's actually what is trapped to it. Dust, pollen and mites can all have a home on your tree.

If you really want a tree there are some steps to help reduce the number of possible irritants. First, set the tree in water and place it in a garage or a heated enclosed space. The reason is that the warm air will dry up the sap and release mold and irritants into the air.

Letting the tree adapt to the warmer temperatures outside of the home will allow for any bugs or irritants to leave the tree and reduce the chances of getting an allergic reaction says Kevin J. Slates, director of the Occupational Health and Safety Laboratory and clinical assistant professor in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Another thing to remember is to cover the water holder to prevent mold from building up. Make sure to change the water regularly in order to reduce the possibility for mold to form.

A quick way to remedy any possible allergic reactions to a live tree is getting an artificial tree. Make sure to take the same precautions as you would storing your holiday decorations. Dust can collect on the box and mold can form on the box if stored in a damp area. Make sure the tree is packed properly and sealed tightly.

Unfortunately there is no way to replicate the smell of a fresh tree but chances are breathing easier is a nice consolation prize.

The same reasons why a live tree can trigger an allergic reaction apply to fresh flower arrangements. The wet soil can produce mold which will become airborne.

Breathing Better During the Holidays

The smells of a feast cooking, of pine or any other fragrance that fill the house and make it inviting can also make it difficult to breathe. All the scents and powerful perfumes can overload the sinuses and affect normal breathing. Dr. Leija suggests to tone it down with all the potpourri and fragrance dispensers around the house.

While scents might be the most obvious culprit for allergic reactions the fact that it's warm in your home right now can also affect your breathing. Cold dry air and the heat pumping into your home needs to be monitored.

Too much humidity in your house can provide enough moisture to make your home a breeding ground for mold. Don't worry as there are easy ways to keep your humidity in check and your house warm. Get a gauge and make sure the humidity is around 48 to 50 percent to avoid an over-moist environment says, Dr. Leija.

The large amount of irritants in the air can exacerbate many COPD symptoms. Mold is particularly troublesome for COPD patients. Considering the various ways mold can be introduced to the air (thanks to improper storage of cardboard boxes or leaving water in the water holder for Christmas trees), COPD patients are particularly at risk. Take precaution in properly storing containers and avoiding live flowers or trees.

Holidays are also a time for parties. With many possible smokers attending those parties, cigarette smoke can be a huge problem for COPD patients. Stay in well-ventilated areas and try to avoid designated smoking sections that may be outside the party. 

Home for the Holidays - Dinner and Pets

Once all the decorations are put up and the house is cleaned it is time to prepare some food or prepare yourself to see your relatives. 

There are plenty of dangers hiding within food. Nuts are hiding in a variety of desserts from the classic fruitcake to flaky pastries, brownies or cookies. Shrimp cocktails or the decadent lobster tails can be a recipe for disaster for those allergic to shellfish.

Due to large families and feasts, it is common for food to be served on the same platter. Sauces can mix together and cross-contamination can occur. Try to keep food that can cause allergic reactions on a separate platter.

If you are eating out do not hesitate to discuss food allergies and things to avoid with the wait staff. Restaurants will understand and accommodate any needs.

If you are the one hosting, be sure to ask about any food allergies or sensitivities your guests may have. Have alternative dishes, such as a gluten free alternatives. Rice, potatoes and corn are all gluten free.  Bread is a staple on the dinner table and cornbread can an alternative for those with gluten sensitivities. 

Last but not least, pets are yet another cause for allergic reactions. Pet dander, dog hair or cat hair can all wreak havoc on your breathing. Make sure to plan ahead of time if a house has pets. 

With pet or food allergies keeping a simple allergy emergency kit will have you prepared. This kit can include an epinephrine pen or medication such as Benadryl

The holidays are full of stress and joy, worrying about allergies should not detract from time with family or celebrating. Awareness of what can cause allergic reactions and being prepared will go a long way to improving your holiday spirit.

Review Date: 
December 19, 2011