Don't let asthma, allergies ruin your winter holidays

A young woman is standing between two trees in a Christmas tree lot.

Some holiday traditions can trigger asthma and allergy troubles. Breathe easier with these tips.

The winter holiday season is a good time to gather wood for the fireplace, pull the decorations out of storage and prepare for festive feasts. It's also time for those of us with allergies to shift our focus.

The grasses and weeds of summer may be gone, but our allergies haven't necessarily disappeared. They've moved indoors with us—and they're staying for the holidays.

Indoor allergies are a problem for millions of Americans every winter, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). And almost everything about the holidays can make them worse—from Christmas trees to candles to foods.

Avoidance is the first line of defense, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Remember: If you're allergic to it, do your best to stay away from it.

And if you can't avoid it, make sure you're prepared to deal with it—with medications and other measures.

Holiday greenery

It shouldn't be a surprise that bringing greenery indoors can increase allergy and asthma symptoms—especially greenery as large as a Christmas tree.

Trees can have mold spores and pollens on them. And these are common triggers.

Many people are also allergic to terpene, a substance found in the sap of trees.

If holiday greenery causes serious allergy problems, use artificial products. But there are ways to lessen pollen and other allergens on real holiday trees. Try these tips from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and the AAAAI:

  • Hose down the tree to remove pollen, mold and dirt. Bonus: This step will tidy up your tree.
  • Let the tree dry thoroughly in an enclosed porch or garage before bringing it indoors.

If you set up an artificial tree, you may want to avoid spraying on artificial snow (flocking). These sprays can irritate your lungs and aggravate asthma, according to the AAAAI. If you choose to use these products anyway, follow the directions carefully.

Dusty decor

Decorations kept in storage pose another potential problem for people with allergies and asthma. Whether they're up in an attic or down in a basement, they can collect dust and mold.

To avoid these problems, the AAFA suggests that you:

  • Store holiday decorations in sealed plastic containers instead of cardboard boxes or open bags.
  • Wipe down the decorations and tree stand with a damp cloth before using them.
  • To help prevent mold, consider storing your decorations in an extra bedroom or other living space instead of a basement or attic.

Before you eat

From Halloween through New Year's, the holidays are filled with foods that commonly cause allergies, according to the ACAAI. These include wheat, eggs, soy, fish and nuts.

Whenever food is being served, ask the host or server what's in it. Another option? Bring a dish that's safe for you to eat, the ACAAI suggests.

It only takes a small amount of food to trigger an allergic reaction. The offending item doesn't even have to be in the food itself, but merely present on a contaminated cooking utensil.

One more crucial tip: Anyone with a serious food allergy should carry a kit of injectable epinephrine at all times, just in case of an emergency.

Visiting or hosting

If you're planning an extended visit with family or friends, let them know about any allergies in your family before your trip.

And if you plan to host visitors, ask them about allergies well in advance of their arrival.

If your guests are allergic to dust mites, you can wash the bed linens they'll be using in hot water (130 degrees). This will help reduce dust mites.

You can also vacuum the floors to reduce dust, as long as you do so well before your guests arrive. You don't want to stir up dust.

Candles and more

Scented candles and diffusing oils can enhance the holiday mood—and aggravate asthma too.

Natural scents, like baked goods that contain cinnamon or vanilla, are less likely to bother lungs than synthetic scents, according to the AAFA.

Reviewed 1/11/2021

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