Don't let allergies put a damper on your holidays.
When you wheeze through your fa-la-la's and your nose rivals Rudolph's, it's a little tougher to feel jolly. Although allergies peak in the spring and fall, the holidays may surprise sensitive sufferers with a gift of unexpected triggers, from dusty decorations and potent potpourri to even--say it ain't so--the Christmas tree. Here are seven yuletide allergens, and expert tips to help you stay focused on shopping and wrapping, not sneezing and scratching.
1. Trigger: Christmas trees
That's right--the one and only, the centerpiece of all things Christmas, that perfect fir you found hiding in the lot of freshly-cut trees that's now twinkling with the lights you spent hours untangling - may be to blame for your stuffy nose, watery eyes and rash-y skin. "Mold is the biggest problem with live Christmas trees," says Marilyn Li, MD, an asthma and allergy specialist with the Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center. "Often, they are cut in advance and kept in humid environments, promoting spore growth." Within just two weeks of bringing a tree into your home, indoor mold counts can increase significantly, according to one study.
Other tree-related allergens: The sap contains terpene and other substances that can irritate skin and mucous membranes; and pollen stuck to the tree may be released inside and lead to reactions, adds Nathanael S. Horne, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU school of Medicine and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. What about the artificial versions? They could harbor dust and mold from their time in storage, also triggering allergies.
Prevent it: Slip on gloves and wear long sleeves when handling your fresh tree to avoid the sap coming into contact with your skin. Before schlepping your tree inside, give it a good shake (or a blast with a leaf blower) and spray it down with a garden hose (especially the trunk) to help remove some of the pollen and mold, suggests Horne. Then sit the stump in a bucket of water and let the tree dry for few days on a covered porch or in a garage. For an allergen-free fake tree, give it a good wipe-down before decorating with lights and ornaments.
2. Trigger: Decorations
For eleven months out of the year, all your ornaments, lights, and holiday chotchkes sit stored out of sight, collecting dust and maybe developing mold. When the boxes of red, green, and gold goodies come out, the symphony of sneezing, coughing and nose-blowing commences.
Prevent it: Before decking your halls, mantels, windows and trees, wipe down each item thoroughly; when it's time to repack, store your holiday trimming in airtight containers, and in a dry spot if possible. Also, go easy on the spray snow--you may love the look of frosted windows, but any aerosolized chemical can cause irritant reactions in the eyes, nose or lungs of a sensitive person, says Horne.
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