Here are some tips for everyone — especially those suffering from asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases — to stay healthy during the holiday season.
During the holidays, family and friends gather in celebration. People are hugging and kissing hello and goodbye, and, unfortunately, respiratory viruses get passed around. If you have a cold, use good judgment about close physical contact. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue rather than your hands. Strongly consider getting an influenza vaccination.
Irritating Odors and Cold Air
People with allergies may be exposed to smoke and irritating odors at parties. One person's fragrant cologne is another person's irritant. Also, kids with viral illnesses and asthma may be affected by the cold winter air. To prevent an onset of respiratory problems caused by breathing cold air, encourage children to breathe through their noses instead of their mouths, and cover noses and mouths with scarves to keep cold air out of the airways. If children with cold-triggered asthma want to play outside, consider pretreating with albuterol prior to going outside.
Holiday food preparation is an issue for those with food allergies. You can eat your own turkey dressing, but what if you go to a party where the hosts make theirs with walnuts, and you're allergic to walnuts? In extreme cases, you may have to bring your own meal. But generally, it's sufficient to let the hosts know about allergies well before the gathering. Call ahead. Take time to be prepared. And don't leave your medications at home — bring your emergency medications, including your epinephrine auto-injector and oral antihistamine, with you, so that you're ready to react in an emergency.
Gifts are seasonal delights, but consider each child's possible allergies and asthma triggers first before surprising him/her with gifts. Let parents make the decision about gifts such as stuffed animals or live pets that can trigger allergic reactions. Look for toys that don't have strong odors associated with them. Avoid homemade foods for risk of contamination with potential food allergens. Don’t give lotions, soaps, oils or scented candles or perfumes which can have allergenic ingredients and/or artificial scents that can aggravate symptoms.
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It's important to monitor chronic illnesses around holidays and on vacation, when normal schedules aren't followed. People who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma should pay attention to their normal preventive measures and make sure they're taking their preventive medications regularly. Always have your rescue inhalers on hand in case of sudden symptoms.
Christmas Tree Allergies
Christmas trees are often cited as the source of allergy attacks during the holidays, but molds, associated with watering live trees, and the chemicals sprayed on the trees are the more likely culprits than the tree itself. Allergic reactions usually occur shortly after an encounter with an allergen, such as dust mites or molds. Unpacking dusty Christmas ornaments can trigger allergic reactions. Decorations stored in a damp basement harbor molds, dust mites and other allergens. Moving, carrying and unpacking the Christmas decoration boxes stirs up dust and transfers allergens to the hands and the respiratory system. Keep ornaments and decorations stored in dry areas, off the floor, and in plastic bags. Wash your hands after unpacking decorations. If you're very concerned about allergy symptoms, allow others to trim the tree.