Beware These Hidden Holiday Health Hazards for People with Allergies & Asthma
All during the year, the possibility exists for people with respiratory problems to experience allergy and asthma attacks. During the holiday season, however, more hidden dangers to health exist. Here are some things everyone – especially people with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory diseases – can do 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. Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue rather than your hands.
Irritating Odors and Cold Air
People with allergies may be exposed to smoke and irritating odors at parties. One person’s fragrant cologne is another person’s irritant. Also, kids with viral illnesses and asthma may be affected by the frosty winter air. To prevent an onset of respiratory problems caused by breathing cold air, encourage children to breathe through their noses instead of their mouths, and to cover their noses and mouths with scarves to keep cold air out of the airways.
Decorations stored in a damp basement often harbor molds, dust mites, and other allergens.
Food preparation is an issue for those with food allergies. You can eat your own stuffing or dressing, but what if you go to a party where the host makes theirs with walnuts, and you’re allergic to walnuts?
In extreme cases, you may have to bring your own meal. But, generally, it’s sufficient to let the host know about your family’s food allergies well before the gathering, especially if the person with food allergies is a kid. Call ahead. Take time to be prepared. And don’t leave your medications at home – bring your emergency medications, including your epinephrine auto-injector and oral antihistamine, with you so you’re ready to react in an emergency.
Gifts are seasonal delights, but consider a child’s possible allergies before surprising them with gifts. Let parents make the decision about gifts like stuffed animals or live pets that can trigger allergic reactions. Look for toys that don’t have strong odors associated with them.
It’s especially important to monitor chronic illnesses around holidays and while on vacation, when normal schedules aren’t followed. People who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma should pay special attention to keeping up their normal preventive measures and make sure they’re taking their preventive medications regularly. And always have your rescue inhalers on hand in case of sudden symptoms.
Christmas Tree Allergies
Christmas trees are often cited as a source of allergy attacks during the holidays, but molds associated with watering live trees and the chemicals sprayed on the trees are more likely culprits than the tree itself.
Allergic reactions usually occur shortly after an encounter with an allergen, such as dust mites or molds. Unpacking dusty Christmas ornaments can trigger allergic reactions. Decorations stored in a damp basement often harbor molds, dust mites, and other allergens. Moving, carrying, and unpacking the holiday decoration boxes stirs up dust and transfers allergens to the hands and the respiratory system. Keep ornaments and decorations stored in dry areas, off the floor, and in plastic bags. Wash your hands after unpacking decorations. If you’re very concerned about allergy symptoms, allow others to trim the tree.
Talk to Your Doctor
Your doctor or an allergist can help you prepare for the holiday season and suggest allergy avoidance techniques to keep you or your child safe. They can also can help you and your child become “label detectives” so you both know what ingredients to watch out for.
- Be the class baker. Volunteer to provide the snacks for holiday parties at school to ensure there will be foods available your child can enjoy. Or, give the teacher a box of safe snacks just for your child so they don’t feel left out.
- Inform your guests. Let guests know that you or your child has dietary restrictions, and offer to let them bring holiday-themed plates, cups, or napkins, rather than food.
- Give your host a heads-up. If you’ll be attending holiday festivities away from home, let your host know about your food allergy. Offer to bring safe foods for you and others to enjoy.
- Don’t overlook the turkey. Basted or self-basting turkeys can include common allergens such as soy, wheat, and dairy. Your safest bet is choosing a turkey labeled “natural,” which by law must be minimally processed and should contain nothing but turkey and, perhaps, water.
- Hang on to food labels. If you are the host of a holiday feast, keep the ingredient labels from the food you are serving for allergic guests to review before digging in.
- Carry medications. Always have emergency medications on hand just in case unrecognized food allergens are hiding in holiday treats. Decorations stored in a damp basement often harbor molds, dust mites, and other allergens.
Source: National Jewish Health, nationaljewish.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2017-2018.