Allergies Asthma The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Not if You Spend it Sneezing & Wheezing

How to Enjoy the Holidays without the Allergy & Asthma Symptoms

family around holiday treeYou don’t want to be a Scrooge. You really don’t. But every holiday season you wonder why your “seasonal” allergies are still bothering you. Why are you stuck sneezing, wheezing, and coughing while everyone else is caroling, sleighing, and spreading cheer?

“People don’t realize how many hidden triggers are associated with the holidays and winter season,” says allergist James Sublett, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Those who suffer from allergies and asthma assume things will ease up once the cold weather hits, but there are other factors which can cause your allergies and asthma to flare. In fact, two thirds of allergy sufferers have year-round triggers and symptoms.”

If the first frost has come and gone but you’re still dealing with seasonal allergies and asthma flares, the following tips can help you get through the cold-weather holidays with nary a “bah humbug.”

Skip the Seasonal Scents  
Many people use candles during the holidays, but scented candles can trigger symptoms in people with allergies and asthma. Wood-burning fireplaces are also a trigger, as well as aerosols, such as air fresheners and artificial snow. Avoid potpourri and other scents designed to make your house smell good. They might also cause sneezing and sniffling among your guests.
TIP: When people gather, viral illnesses are more likely to be passed around. If you have asthma, talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot. A Feast without Fear  
Traditional holiday foods are often a big part of seasonal gatherings, including Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa; however, some of those dishes may contain potential food allergens. If you have a history of possible food allergies, consult with your doctor to determine if you’re actually allergic or if you’re just intolerant. If you’re dining at a friend’s house, let your host know about your food allergy, and bring a dish to share that is safe for you to eat. If you’re the host, check labels for common food allergens, and consider putting small labels on foods that contain peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish, as these are the most common holiday food allergens.

Coughin’ around the Christmas Tree  
Both live and artificial trees can trigger symptoms. Some people are allergic to terpene, found in the oil or sap of trees. Others are bothered by mold spores or pollen brought in by fresh trees and greenery. Before bringing them into your house, use a leaf blower to help remove some of the pollen. Wash live trees, especially the trunk, with a garden hose and leave in the garage or on covered porch to dry. Wear gloves when handling the tree to avoid sap. Artificial trees can harbor dust and mold if stored improperly, so you should wash these trees outside as well to help eliminate some of the allergens. When storing the tree, place it in an airtight container to hinder allergen accumulation.

Ditch the Dust, Then Deck the Halls  
Seasonal decorations stored in attics and basements for months often gather dust and mold, which can trigger an allergic reaction when they come out of storage. Clean each item thoroughly before decking the halls, dining room, or tree. After the holidays, when you’re packing decorations away, store them in airtight containers. 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside  
You may want to exercise to keep holiday pounds away, but exercising in the cold can make asthma symptoms worse. The symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, a feeling of tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. If these symptoms occur when you exercise in cold weather, they may indicate undiagnosed asthma. An allergist can perform lung function tests to accurately diagnose asthma and create an action plan to help identify your triggers, as well as ways to avoid them. For example:

• Warm up with gentle exercises for about 15 minutes before you start more intense exercise.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or face mask when you exercise in cold weather.
• Take medicine as recommended by your doctor to prevent and treat your asthma.
• Consider moving your exercise program indoors if the temperature is below freezing.

You Better Watch Out  
While stress doesn’t cause allergies or asthma, it can hinder your immune system. The chaos of the holiday season also may distract you from keeping yourself healthy, including taking your allergy and asthma medication. Carve out time to stay on top of your symptoms so illness doesn’t derail your holiday plans. 

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, WINTER November 2014-February 2015.