Allergic to the holidays? Bah, humbug

Health Matters

photograph by Baks |

Ebenezer Scrooge may not actually have been allergic to the holidays, but for 40 million children and adults who suffer from allergies and asthma, the season holds many hidden triggers. The last thing you need during your celebrations is for someone in your family to experience an asthma or allergy episode. To make sure your home is safe for yuletide visitors, follow these tips from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

• Opt for natural aromas.  While gingerbread and pine-scented candles or air fresheners help create a cozy atmosphere, they can also be hazardous to some. About one-third of people with asthma report health problems from scented air fresheners, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Studies show that an exposure to these compounds that is even below accepted levels can increase the risk of asthma in children. Open windows or let the scents from the oven provide natural aromas.

• Be selective when you deck the halls.  Everyone loves a festive house, but hidden allergens can lurk in decorations. If you didn’t store your them in airtight containers, last year’s items may be moldy or full of allergy-triggering dust mites. Trees can also be a problem; some people are allergic to terpene found in the sap of pine trees, or are bothered by the mold that lurks on the trees. If asthma or allergies are an issue in your home, consider an artificial tree, as well as wreaths and garland, then, store them carefully. Also, watch out for poinsettias, which are problematic for people with latex allergies since the plant is part of the rubber tree family.

• Watch the foods. Food allergens can show up in the strangest places — soy in mock caviar, peanuts in pie crust, shellfish in stuffing — so be cautious about what you put on your plate (or the plates of your guests) during the holidays. Even turkey can be risky. Allergens in stuffing can be absorbed into the meat, so try cooking your bird unstuffed. You also may want to stick to a natural turkey, which contains only turkey and water, since self-basting turkeys can contain soy, wheat and dairy.

• Select gifts carefully. Exchanging gifts with allergic friends can be tricky. Nickel, a common cause of contact dermatitis, can be found in earrings, necklaces, and watches. Candy can include nuts or other allergens, and perfume or aftershave with strong scents can cause asthma episodes and rashes. Instead, play it safe with gifts such as clothes or books.

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