'Stress from the holidays, traveling and briefly staying in a new environment can weaken your immune system,' says allergist Dr. James Sublett, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Indoor Environment Committee. 'Being in these different situations can also mean coming in contact with allergens that can spur sudden allergy and asthma attacks.'
To help deck the halls with holiday cheer instead of tissues and allergy medications, the ACAAI has put together tips to help you understand what can trigger your symptoms when returning home for the holidays.
Allergies are coming to town - Even if you've never before had a problem with your grandma's cat, you may find yourself suddenly sneezing and wheezing. These sudden symptoms are known as the Thanksgiving Effect, which earned its name after visiting relatives and college students, heading home for holiday breaks, suddenly noticed an allergic reaction to their pet. Allergies can strike at any age, meaning being a houseguest in a pet's home can be bothersome. If you notice you are having an allergic reaction, ask the host to keep the pet away from where you will be sleeping. Be sure to take your allergy medications and wash your hands immediately after petting your new furry friend.
Pass the sneezy pudding - Festive feasts are a staple of this time of year but they can contain several health hazards if you have a food allergy. Be sure to check ingredient labels and don't be afraid to ask your loved ones how the meal was prepared. Items like stuffing can contain shellfish and holiday sauces can often have peanuts or tree nuts included.
Oh Christmas tree, how sappy are your branches - If you find yourself sneezing around the Christmas tree, wreaths and garland, you might be allergic to terpene. Naturally produced by plants, terpene can be found in oil and sap. Poinsettia plants can also be a problem for those with a latex allergy. Other decorations, such as menorahs and ornaments might be laden with dust from being stored in an attic all year, irritating those with a dust mite allergy.
Make a list and check it twice - Before you travel home for the holidays, pack wisely. Be sure you take along allergy medications, an inhaler and allergist-prescribed epinephrine if you are at risk for a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. If you rely on immunotherapy (allergy shots) for relief, be sure to schedule an appointment with your allergist before you leave.
Allergies and asthma shouldn't put a damper on holiday celebrations. Before you set out to visit with friends and relatives this season, check out smoke and pet-free hotels in the area just in case you need a new place to stay. If you'll be away from home most of the season, find a local allergist you can see in your temporary destination by visiting www.acaai.org/AllergistFinder.