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Stay Allergy Free This Holiday Season

Healthnotes Newswire (December 13, 2007)—For many of us, the holidays mean an abundance of rich foods and sweet treats, travel to see family and friends, and celebrations in homes and other places adorned with cut trees and other festive decorations. These traditions are comforting and exciting—but may also be challenging for people with allergies.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

Managing allergies and asthma may take some extra planning when traveling. You may be exposed to levels of dust mites and animal dander that aren’t part of your life at home. Stress from travel and holiday pressures adds to the problem by causing the release of chemicals in the body that constrict airways and aggravate asthma. What’s more, you may experience a flare-up of allergy or asthma symptoms triggered by your cat or dog after you’ve been away from them for a while.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) to help you enjoy your time away this holiday season:

• Consider bringing your own pillow with an allergen-proof cover if you are staying in a hotel or with family or friends.

• Keep your stress level low by maintaining your regular exercise routine as much as possible and by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.

• Try not to be away from your pets for too long.

O Christmas, er, mold?

In their November online newsletter “Topic of the Month” the AAAAI addressed other allergy issues specific to the season. People with apparent allergies to cut evergreen trees might actually be reacting to microscopic mold and mold spores that grow and reproduce on the trees during storage and when indoors.

Of course, you can sidestep the problem altogether by choosing an artificial variety, but if you are a traditionalist who longs for the aroma of the fresh tree, you may avoid the sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose that these molds can trigger by shaking your tree out, then letting it dry outside for about a week before bringing it in the house. You can dry your tree in a garage or enclosed porch, keeping the cut trunk in a bucket of water to keep it fresh.

Holiday goodies—and baddies

Wheat, dairy, eggs, seafood, peanuts, and tree nuts—the most common allergenic foods—figure prominently at the table this time of year. Reactions to foods can range from immediate, severe, life-threatening swelling in the airways (anaphylaxis), to inability to digest a food, usually leading to diarrhea (intolerance), to delayed sensitivities that result in a variety of mild to severe symptoms such as digestive distress, respiratory congestion, joint pain, and dermatitis.

If you have food sensitivities or intolerances, remember that it will be in your best interest to avoid foods you react to.

If you or your child has anaphylactic food allergies, the AAAAI recommends taking the following precautions:

• Inform the host about your food allergy and ask about the ingredients used to prepare each dish.

• Remind family members and friends that strict avoidance is important when managing food allergies and that even one little bite can be dangerous.

• Carry an auto-injectable dose of epinephrine when attending a holiday party where unrecognized food allergens could be hiding.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying an allergy-free holiday season.

(Am Acad Allergy Asthma Immunol 2007; November: online publication)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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