Holiday tips to keep your allergies and asthma at bay

Allergy and asthma flares are difficult at any time of the year, but especially during the holiday season. So, what can you do?

Avoid Triggers in the House

Nothing says the holiday season like a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, trees can be a big cause of wheezing and sneezing. Although it's commonly thought to be from the smell, it's usually due to mold growing on the tree. What can you do? You can try an artificial one, but keep it clean from dust. If only a real one will do, wait until a few days before Christmas to bring the tree inside, and remove it as soon as possible after the holiday season. This will limit the amount of time you are at risk for allergy symptoms. It may be beneficial to run an air cleaner in the same room as the Christmas tree to reduce allergens going into the air from the tree.

RELATED: What Are the Most Common Food Allergies?

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What Are the Most Common Food Allergies?
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What Are the Most Common Food Allergies?

1 in 13 American children have food allergies, but what foods should we watch out for?

Milk

Cow’s milk is the most common, but milk from other sources can also cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms can be mild to severe and can start minutes to hours after drinking milk. Symptoms include wheezing, hives, vomiting and other digestive problems. A milk allergy is rarely life-threatening and most children will outgrow it by the age of three.

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Peanuts

Peanut allergies are the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a serious, life threatening reaction that results in swelling of the throat, constriction of the airways and a drop in blood pressure. Peanuts can also result in mild reactions like itching of the mouth and throat, hives, digestive problems or a runny nose. A mild reaction in the past to peanuts can evolve into a more serious reaction, so any symptom of allergy should prompt attention by a physician.

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Tree Nuts

These include nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and pistachio nuts. (Peanuts are a legume.) Like peanut allergies, tree nut allergies range from itching in the mouth to anaphylaxis. People who are allergic to one nut are often advised to avoid all nuts.

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Shellfish

Shrimp, crab and lobster cause the majority of shellfish allergies. More than 60% of people allergic to shellfish report their first reaction as an adult.

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Wheat

It is important to distinguish a wheat allergy, from Celiac disease or gluten intolerance. An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system and can cause hives, itching, swelling, wheezing and is potentially fatal. An intolerance results in a reaction in the small intestine, causing intestinal damage and digestive symptoms.

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Honey

It is recommended that babies under the age of one do not ingest honey or products containing honey. This is not because of the risk of allergy, but because these foods may contain a bacteria that can cause infant botulism.

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Recently, the recommendations of when to introduce highly allergenic food have changed. It is now recommended to introduce them as you would any other food, watching for signs of reaction as you would any other food. If you are concerned because of a history of allergies in your family, consult your pediatrician prior to trying something new.

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Everyone loves the smells associated with the holiday season, but problems can develop for those with allergies and asthma. Watch out for Christmas wreaths, potpourri and holiday air fresheners. They can irritate your eyes, nose and lungs, and trigger eye-watering and itching, sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

The holiday season means it's time to light up the fireplace. But smoke can worsen allergies and asthma. Check your fireplace to make sure it draws well so all the smoke goes up the chimney. Watch out for Hanukkah candles, too; their smoke may lead to troublesome symptoms.

Poinsettias are a popular holiday flower. Did you know they're members of the rubber tree family? If you have a latex allergy, coming into contact with poinsettias could trigger a severe allergic reaction. My advice is to stay away from them.

[See: 8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies.]

Be Safe at Holiday Parties

Holiday time is party time, and what's a party without food? For people with food allergies, holiday foods can be hazardous to their health. How can you keep yourself safe while eating at holiday parties?

If possible, send the host a list of the foods you're allergic to and request they not be served. If that's not possible, ask the host to label all the dishes that contain the allergenic foods. Because you can never be 100 percent sure that you won't eat something you're allergic to, make sure you always carry two auto injectors of epinephrine in case of an anaphylactic reaction. If you want to be completely safe, only eat from dishes you bring to the party yourself.

What if you're doing the hosting? With so many people having food allergies, think about checking with your guests before the party to see if any foods should be banned from the gathering. Consider labeling any food that might contain an allergen. A little planning can prevent a life-threatening reaction. You don't want anything to interfere with holiday cheer.

[See: How to Survive Ragweed Allergy Season.]

Precautions for the Indoors

Spending holiday time at others' homes and on the road can expose you to a variety of indoor allergens. Your relative's cute dog could lead to allergy problems, as there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. Cat allergy can produce severe symptoms even if the cat is removed from the house a few days before the person with cat allergy arrives. Unfortunately, there will still be enough cat dander remaining in the house to lead to allergy and/or asthma symptoms. The bedding and carpeting in homes and hotels may be full of house dust mites, a major cause of allergy misery. It's especially important to take your allergy and asthma medications regularly to control indoor allergies. You may also be a candidate for allergen immunotherapy – allergy shots – to help build up tolerance to your allergies.

[See: Is it Healthy to Sleep With Your Pets?]

Finally, take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, manage stress and stay hydrated. Flu season can peak during the holidays. Not only can flu lead to fever, aches and chills, but if you have asthma, it can trigger a severe flare-up. So don't forget to get your annual flu shot. Opt for a fist bump this year. Less hand shaking and kissing can reduce exposure to nasty cold viruses. Don't let illness get in the way of your holiday fun.

See your allergist before the holidays to make sure your allergies and asthma are under tip-top control and all your medications are up-to-date. Remember, it's the "most wonderful time of the year," and you want to enjoy every minute.

You can get more information about allergies and asthma at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website, and find an allergist near you with the ACAAI Allergist Locator.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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