Tips: Winter Allergies

WITH the holiday season just around the corner, millions of Americans are preparing to decorate their homes, gather for feasts and travel to visit relatives. However, for allergy and asthma sufferers, the holiday season presents several potential triggers, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

"Whether it's feasting on holiday meals, setting up your Christmas tree or visiting your pet-owning relatives, allergy triggers may be lurking inside of our warm, cozy homes this time of year," said Alisa M. Smith, Ph.D., FAAAAI, vice-chair of the AAAAI's Indoor Allergen Committee. "Unfortunately, with busy schedules, travel time and the stress of the holidays, it is easy to forget to take the proper care when dealing with allergies and asthma. However, avoiding potential triggers and taking the proper precautions is necessary to keep symptoms under control."

The AAAAI suggests the following tips to help keep your allergies and asthma under control this holiday season:

  • When attending holiday parties or family gatherings, inform the host about your food allergy and ask about the ingredients used to prepare the meal.
  • Carry an auto-injectable dose of epinephrine when attending a holiday party where unrecognized food allergens could be hiding. Homemade items do not have ingredient lists and could be contaminated with trace amounts of allergenic foods through contact with storage containers or kitchen utensils.
  • Remind family members and friends that strict avoidance is the only way to manage food allergies, and that even one little bite can trigger a dangerous reaction.
  • If visiting relatives' homes who own pets, take your allergy medication before arriving in order to minimize a possible reaction.
  • Evergreens often carry microscopic mold spores. You might think you are allergic to your Christmas tree, but it is likely that it is the mold spores that are causing those symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, and an itchy nose.
  • Clean decorations and artificial trees outside before decorating. They can gather mold and dust while in storage. Wash fabric decorations in hot, soapy water before displaying them to remove mold and dust.
  • When spraying artificial snow on windows or other surfaces, be sure to follow directions. These sprays can irritate your lungs if you inhale them.
  • The holidays can be a stressful time of year. Pay attention to your stress level, which can sometimes lead to an asthma attack. Deep breathing and relaxation can help.
  • Take along your own pillow with an allergen-proof cover and request down-free pillows if staying in a hotel or at a relative's house. Dust mites can be especially troublesome if traveling away from home.
  • Ask your relatives and friends to avoid burning wood in the fireplace. The smoke can trigger an asthma attack.

Patients should see an allergist/immunologist if they need to confirm the diagnosis of allergies or asthma, or if they need education and guidance in techniques for managing allergies and asthma. If your symptoms are not under control, consult with an allergist/immunologist to discuss the treatment options that are available. To find an allergist/immunologist in your area or to learn more about allergies and asthma, visit the AAAAI Web site at www.aaaai.org.

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