December 19, 2001
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma &
Immunology: Surviving the Holiday Season -- Allergy Free
- The holidays are a time of peace and joy, however, this time of year can
be particularly troublesome for some people. Christmas trees, cookies and
eggnog are traditions that go along with the season, but for allergy
sufferers, they can quickly turn holiday cheer into misery.
Am I allergic to my Christmas tree?
Christmas trees are often blamed for allergy attacks, though its usually not
the tree itself that causes reactions. According to the American Academy of
Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), evergreen pollens, with their thick,
waxy outer coating, are not considered significant allergens, and are
unlikely to cause a reaction. But real and artificial Christmas trees can be
a source of other allergens.
"Artificial trees can be a source of mold and dust caused by improper
storage. Real Christmas trees may be a breeding ground for mold or may
contain other pollens such as ragweed. Natural tree resins can also be a
potential source for airborne irritants. In rare cases, tree sap can cause
an allergic rash," said Richard Honsinger, M.D., FAAAAI and Chair of the
AAAAI's Public Education Committee.
The risks associated with a real or artificial tree can be reduced
significantly by taking a few simple precautions:
-- Use a cloth to wipe off your artificial tree;
-- To remove pollens from real trees, take it outside and spray it with a
garden hose. Place the stump in a bucket of water and then allow the rest of
the tree to dry thoroughly in the garage. Store the tree in a sealed plastic
casing before setting it up;
-- When handling a real tree, wear gloves to keep sap away from the skin;
-- Gently wipe off ornaments and lights to remove dust and mold.
I have food allergies. What should I avoid?
The holiday season is especially dangerous for those with food allergies.
Many traditional holiday treats such as eggnog, cookies and candy may
contain hidden food allergens, making accidental ingestion easy. "The most
common foods that trigger allergic reactions include milk, eggs, legumes
(especially peanuts), and tree nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and
walnut," said Honsinger. "Because it only takes a tiny amount of a food
allergen to trigger a potentially dangerous reaction, people with food
allergies should exercise caution."
If you suffer from food allergies, here are some holiday party foods to
-- Baked Goods -- Ice cream
-- Eggnog -- Macaroni mixes
-- Fruitcake -- Quiches
-- Meatballs -- Some salad dressings
-- Cheese -- Mixed nuts
-- Glazed rolls/bread -- Vegetable and Chip dips
Although avoidance is the best way to handle food allergies, it may not
always be possible. Homemade items do not have ingredients listed and can be
contaminated with small amounts of food allergens through contact with
storage containers, baking sheets and utensils. Food allergy reactions can
also be intensified by smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Using an
antihistamine before a party where you may be exposure to an unrecognized
food allergen could help prevent or reduce the severity of a reaction.
However, this should not be relied upon for protection. For people with
severe sensitivities, self-injectable epinephrine prescribed by an
allergist/immunologist, should be available.
Precautions need to be taken at school too. "Parents of children with food
allergies should pack a snack from home for their child when school classes
have holiday parties. It's the only way to avoid inadvertent exposure to
allergenic foods," said Honsinger.