’Tis the Season for Sneezing and Wheezing
All during the year, the possibility exists for people with respiratory problems to have allergy and asthma attacks. During the holiday season, however, more hidden dangers to health exist. Here are some tips for everyone – especially those who have asthma, allergies, or other respiratory diseases – to stay healthy during the holiday season.
During the holidays, family and friends gather in celebration. People are hugging and kissing hello and goodbye, and unfortunately, respiratory viruses get passed around. If you have a cold, use good judgment about close physical contact.
Irritating Odors and Cold Air
People with allergies may be exposed to smoke at parties and irritating odors. One person’s fragrant cologne is another’s irritant. Also, the cold winter air may affect kids with viral illnesses and asthma. To prevent an onset of respiratory problems caused by breathing cold air, encourage children to breathe through their noses instead of their mouths and cover noses and mouths with scarves to keep cold air out of the airways.
Food preparation is an issue for those with food allergies. During the holiday season, it’s important to know what’s in the food you’re eating. You can eat your own turkey and dressing, but what if you go to a party where the hostess makes hers with walnuts and you’re allergic to walnuts? In extreme cases, you may have to bring your own meal. However, it’s usually sufficient to let the hostess know about allergies well before the gathering, especially if kids have food allergies. Call ahead. Take time to be prepared. And don’t leave your medications at home – bring your medications with you so that you’re ready to react in an emergency.
Gifts are seasonal delights, but consider a child’s possible allergies before you bring goodies to the cash register.
Gifts are seasonal delights, but consider a child’s possible allergies before you bring goodies to the cash register. Let parents make the decision about gifts, such as stuffed animals or live pets, that can trigger allergic reactions. Look for toys that don’t have strong odors associated with them.
Staying up late, eating junk food, and getting excited can all trigger asthma attacks. People who have chronic problems such as asthma should pay attention to their normal preventive measures and make sure they’re taking their preventive medications regularly. It’s important to monitor chronic illnesses around any holidays and when on vacation since normal schedules typically aren’t being followed during these times.
Christmas Tree Allergies
Christmas trees are often cited as the source of allergy attacks during the holidays, but molds associated with watering live trees and the chemicals sprayed on the trees are more likely irritants. There are very few cases among people with allergies in which the Christmas tree is the culprit.
Allergic reactions usually occur shortly after an encounter with an allergen, such as dust mites or molds. Unpacking Christmas ornaments can trigger allergic reactions. Decorations stored in a damp basement harbor molds, dust mites, and other allergens. Moving, carrying, and unpacking these Christmas ornament boxes stirs up dust and transfers allergens to the hands and the respiratory system. Many people are first aware of these symptoms while decorating the Christmas tree and erroneously assume that the tree is the cause.
Keep ornaments and decorations stored in dry areas, off the floor, and in plastic bags. Also, wash your hands after unpacking decorations. If you’re especially concerned about allergy symptoms, allow others to trim the tree.
Increased Time Spent Indoors
Even though freezing temperatures bring an end to seasonal pollen allergies, millions of people experience indoor allergy symptoms because of the time spent indoors during cold weather. Your home can actually contribute to sickness.
Forced-air furnaces circulate airborne dust containing lint, fabric fiber, bacteria, food material, and animal dander. Three of the most common allergens – house dust mites, animal dander, and cockroach droppings – are worse in winter when there is less ventilation. Changing the furnace air filter regularly can help relieve allergy symptoms.
Source: National Jewish Health, nationaljewish.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2012-2013.