Allergies, Asthma and Winter Holidays

This article has been reviewed by Thanai Pongdee, MD, FAAAAI

With the arrival of winter, seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma sufferers can breathe relief as most outdoor allergens disappear until spring. But holiday gatherings and spending more time indoors exposes many people to different allergen triggers.

Food Allergies During the Holidays
Food plays a central role in many events. If you have a food allergy, these functions can be difficult to navigate. Be sure to ask about the ingredients used to make each dish. Be aware that cross-contamination can occur during preparation. If you think the foods served pose too much risk, or if you just don’t feel comfortable eating foods provided by others, you don’t have to. Bring your own snacks or eat before you arrive.

Even if you take every precaution, there’s still a slim chance of an allergic reaction. Have your autoinjectable epinephrine at-hand just in case.

Other Holiday Triggers
Holiday decorations, travel and stress can all present challenges for people with allergies and asthma. Here are some of the most common triggers to be on the lookout for:
•    Does your Christmas tree make you sneeze or cause shortness of breath? It’s unlikely that you are allergic to the tree itself, but the fragrance may be irritating. Some trees may also be home to microscopic mold spores that trigger asthma or allergies, causing symptoms like sneezing or an itchy nose. Use an artificial tree or, if you must have the real thing, let the tree dry in a garage or enclosed porch for a week and give it a good shake prior to bringing it inside.
•    Follow directions carefully when spraying artificial snow or flocking. Inhaling these sprays can irritate your lungs and trigger asthma symptoms.
•    If you leave your pet behind when traveling for the holidays, you may experience allergy or asthma symptoms on your return home. Dubbed the “Thanksgiving Effect” this phenomenon occurs when a person loses tolerance to her own pet after being away for a few days.
•    Be aware that stress can lead to asthma attacks. Chemicals released by the body during stressful times can cause the muscles around your airways to tighten, making it difficult to breathe.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology