It’s that special time of the year when we gather together to celebrate the holidays and good times with family and friends. As we strive to focus on a healthy lifestyle, especially as we approach the new year, it may pose difficulties for millions who suffer from allergies, as the holidays may carry a whole set of potential and often hidden risks.
Common allergic triggers that may set up a reaction or cause allergy misery can be minimized with my pro-active allergy action plan to allow for enjoyable— and safe— holidays for all.
Wipe down your tree.
Every December, I see a mini allergy explosion with a variety of respiratory complaints. The biggest trigger is a live Christmas tree, which can release mold spores into your home within days of its presence. Wipe a live tree down in order to dry it before bringing into your home. Dozens of different molds may be present on a live tree, and spore counts indoors can rise to six times the normal indoor level with just a week or so. You may wish to limit the duration of exposure to seven days or less, if you are particularly sensitive to molds and experience symptoms. A HEPA air filter may also provide some level of relief for some.
Strong fragrances found in potpourri, scented candles and a variety of decorations can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory passages, especially in sensitive individuals. Try using flowers and arrangements that are less likely to have heavy scents such as tulips, carnations, iris, gladioli, orchids, lilies, daisies, and snapdragons.
Buy scrubbing plants.
Researchers find certain house plants actually clean and “scrub” indoor air, which is especially helpful during the winter months when windows are often kept closed to remove pollutants and improve indoor air quality, especially for those with allergies and asthma. They include aloe, spider plant, English ivy, Chinese evergreen, bamboo palm, rubber plant, peace lily, golden pathos, Gerber daisy, and certain dracaenas.
Clean the air.
Using a room or central HEPA air purifier can help reduce airborne indoor allergens such as cat dander and dog hair, as well as indoor pollutants from a burning stove or fireplace.
Be a label detective.
When it comes to holiday goodies, there are so many tempting treats and gifts that may create havoc if you have a food allergy or intolerance. Be sure to read labels before you consume anything.
Don’t get wet.
If you humidify your home, don’t overdo it. Try to measure the indoor moisture level in your home with a low-cost hygrometer to help at keep indoor humidity levels no higher than 40 to 50 percent.
Skip snow sprays.
Avoid artificial “snow sprays” that may aggravate nasal and sinus passages, as well as asthma, in affected individuals.
Store decorations smartly.
Clean tree ornaments and lights before attaching them to your tree, as they may be full of molds and dust, and always store these items in the in a closed child-safe container.
Watch out for plant allergies.
Poinsettias are popular decorations during the holidays, but may occasionally trigger allergic skin symptoms upon contact with its leaves, especially for those who may be sensitive to latex or rubber.
Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center, and faculty at Cornell University Medical College. Follow him on Twitter.