December 12, 2005
For many people, it's allergy
causes some people to hack and sneeze their way through each holiday
season. However, it may not be the pine needles giving their sinuses
grief. Its the mold hidden in the crevices of the tree bark
that can cause an allergic reaction, according to Paul Stillwagon,
a physician with the Asthma & Allergy Center of the Northern
Shenandoah Valley Inc. ... Although Stillwagon believes his patients
symptoms are real, he is skeptical of the source. Stillwagon said
that while its possible to have an allergy to pine tree pollen,
its impossible to have symptoms during the Christmas season
because pine trees only pollinate in the spring. Bark mold may not
be the only culprit. 'As people are breaking out Christmas decorations,
they may be rustling them around and breaking out stuff that's dusty
and moldy,' Stillwagon said. 'So it may be the dust' giving people
problems. He noted Christmas potpourri, perfumes, and scented candles
may also be irritants. 'Don't jump to conclusions that it is automatically
the tree,' Stillwagon said."
For those who still choose
to have a tree, there are ways to reduce the allergens in the air.
trees may also have been sprayed to help them stay green. This chemical
spray may cause respiratory symptoms. Hosing down a live tree with
water before bringing it in may help. Artificial trees and Christmas
decorations are often dusty, and therefore a source of house dust
mites. Artificial trees and decorations should be dusted outside
before decorating the tree. Use a hand held hair dryer set on cool.
After the tree has been decorated, a small room air filter can be
used in the vicinity of the tree to keep down the dust in the air.
A HEPA filter is recommended."
For those with allergies
of any sort, this time of year is often more difficult. Even if
they can avoid (or reduce) allergens in their own homes, people
are visiting the homes of others and/ or attending holiday parties.
Parties and other gatherings are also more likely to be indoors
(due to the cold weather in much of the country). While it can be
difficult (or even inappropriate) to ask someone else to hose down
their tree or dust their ornaments, those with severe pet allergies
may be able to reduce symptoms if they plan ahead.
"The approach to visiting
households with pets for an allergic individual is to take appropriate
precautions including administration of medications prior to visitation.
Your allergist-immunologist can provide information on medications
for your animal allergy, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants
or appropriate asthma medications. For patients who have severe
symptoms on animal dander exposure, the pet should removed from
the house at least day before the visit, and the host household
should be cleansed of animal allergen to the extent practical."
And those with food allergies
often have to be careful, go hungry, or eat before arriving.
"Holiday Eating: Resisting
Temptation A recent survey of teens and young adults ages 13 to
21 revealed that 49% ate a risky food simply because it looked good
and they wanted to eat it. With the holiday season, which (unfortunately)
brings celebrations teeming with food, upon us, how can you strengthen
your willpower to stay away from foods that could cause a reaction?
The tips below may help.
* Respect your food allergy. Allergic reactions are serious business,
and they can be fatal. No matter how good a food might look, remind
yourself that it simply isnt worth the risk. It is true that
just one little bite can cause an allergic reaction, and not all
reactions can be 'toughed out.'
* Develop an eating plan and stick to it. Before holiday gatherings
or other celebrations, mentally remind yourself what is off-limits
to you. One study of peanut- and tree nutłallergic reactions in
restaurants/food service establishments found that desserts were
most commonly the culprit dish (43%).
* Get support from others. Seek out family and friends who are most
understanding about your food allergy. Such people can make all
the difference if you need a sympathetic ear or someone to simply
help boost your willpower.
* Reward yourself. ... Once the food-intensive holidays are over,
pat yourself on the back for a job well done and then treat yourself
to something special. ... Remember--you are not alone. You can do
"Get support from
If friends and family members
know about the allergy, especially one which is potentially life-threatening,
they are more able to be supportive and make appropriate accommodations.
"Teens with peanut
allergies are in the highest risk group for a severe or fatal allergic
reaction, according to the Food Allergy Network. That's because
they may not be carrying medication, they may not recognize early
symptoms, and they and their friends may not know what to do when
a reaction occurs, causing a delay in getting help. ... Those who
are allergic to peanuts must be vigilant about completely avoiding
them. But avoiding peanuts altogether is easy to say and hard to
do, Johnson said. 'It's one thing to avoid peanuts in your own home,
but where you get in trouble is in the outside world -- in restaurants
or in school cafeterias where they might be hidden traces of peanuts,'
Johnson said. 'We know of one incident where someone had an allergic
reaction from eating a cheese sandwich that was sliced in half using
a knife that had also been used to slice a peanut butter sandwich.'
Some people are so severely allergic to peanuts that just the aroma
triggers an allergic reaction, Johnson said."
Questions of the Week:
As someone with allergies, what can you do to help increase the
chances of having a safe and healthy holiday season for yourself?
When planning to attend a gathering, party, or just be a guest in
someone's home, how can you address the allergy issue with your
host (or hostess)? What are your responsibilities as the one with
the allergies? As one giving a party, planning a gathering, or simply
inviting a friend over, what should you know about the allergies
of any potential guests? How can you address the allergy issue with
your guests? What are your responsibilities as a host (or hostess)?
What about those who do not have allergies, and are not planning
to host anything anytime soon? What should you know about the allergies
of your friends and family members? How can you support them and/
or help them be as safe as possible in a potentially unsafe situation?
Would you know what to do if someone you knew (a friend, family
member, or classmate) were to have a severe allergic reaction? What
should you know, and what can you do?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum