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Always Dealing with a Cold Around the Holidays? The Cause Might Surprise You

holiday-allergiesDid you ever think that your Christmas décor might be causing your pesky cold-like symptoms? According to Dr. Lyvia Leigh, an allergy and immunology doctor at Allergy & Asthma Specialists, they might be, along with other typical wintertime triggers.  If you’ve been suffering from cold-like symptoms lasting longer than two weeks, you might actually be dealing with seasonal allergies instead.

To help you have a happy and healthy holiday season this year, Dr. Leigh offered a few tips to help identify the holiday decoration triggers and find solutions to your seasonal allergy symptoms:

The cause: Holiday decoration triggers like the mold on the Christmas tree trunk, the terpene in the evergreen sap or a year’s worth of dust on the ornaments brought down from the attic.

The solution:  Clean and store in sealed containers. Wash the live tree before bringing it inside and, if possible, clean the artificial tree and ornaments.  Store your ornaments in air tight containers to prevent dust and mold accumulation. Also, avoid poinsettias if you have a latex allergy—they are a member of the rubber tree family.

The cause: Sitting by the fire, scented candles or temperature changes can create challenges and cause asthma flares over the holidays.

The solution: Move away from the fireplace or candles. Smoke from the fireplace or fumes from scented candles can trigger an asthma attack. Also, be aware of temperature changes. “Cold air can also trigger asthma,” says Dr. Leigh. Wear a scarf over your nose and mouth when going outside to lessen the chance of an asthma attack. Viruses can also trigger asthma. “Now that we’re entering cold and flu season, that can trigger an asthma flare, and so can any sort of irritant or respiratory-inhaled irritant, like sitting by the fireplace,” she says. “The best thing to do would be avoidance, but just having your rescue inhaler handy at all times could potentially help.”

The cause: Different holiday cuisine.

The solution: Choose food carefully. With all of the social events occurring during the holidays, you might find yourself trying a plethora of new foods, so you should stay mindful about what you’re eating over the holidays. “If you do have a food allergy, be more cautious during the holidays,” says Dr. Leigh. “Everyone prepares food differently, and you don’t know what they’ve used. Always verify what exactly is in the dish.”

The cause: Closing up the house. The holidays bring cold weather so we close the doors and windows and turn on the heat—causing a concentration of allergens that otherwise may not bother you in warmer months. Staying inside exposes you to dust mites, mold, pet dander, smoke, and heating system emissions that can make you sick.

The solution: “Dust mites like to live in mattresses, pillows, bedding,” says Dr. Leigh. “In the winter, we’re not opening windows as much, not ventilating as much, so it’s important to cover your mattress and pillows with a dust mite cover, wash your bedding with hot water every two weeks and keep your room as clean as possible.” One of the biggest carriers of dust? Stuffed animals! But Dr. Leigh has a quick fix for them as well— “If you place them in the freezer for 12 hours or so every 2 weeks, it can kill off the dust mites.”

One thing dust mites and mold have in common: they love damp areas. “Dust mites can’t drink water, so they get it by absorbing it directly from the air,” says Dr. Leigh. “That means you want to get a dehumidifier, especially for a basement area.” They’re also attracted to real and artificial trees and décor. Always hose live greenery down before bringing it indoors and store reusable décor in dry, sealed containers.

Household mold is attracted to bathroom fixtures, walls and shower curtains, basements and window moldings.  Dehumidify these areas and clean with a mold-specific disinfectant.  With proper ventilation and a good dehumidifier, you can limit the presence of these allergens in your home.

The cause: A concentration of animal dander after closing up the house in cold weather.

The solution: Clean it up. You’re likely allergic to dander if you notice a sudden irritation every time your furry friend is around. To cancel out the constant sneezing there are a few productive steps to take. “Be sure to keep the pets out of the bedroom, wash the pet once or twice a week, and wash the rugs where the pets lie for starters,” says Dr. Leigh. But dander is pesky and won’t go away by just cleaning up pet hair. Dr. Leigh suggests going over hard surfaces with a mop, and vacuuming regularly. “When you’re vacuuming, especially for cat and dog dander, there are particles that are floating in the air, so you want to use a vacuum with a good HEPA filter that will capture the pollutants really well,” she says. Use air cleaners and filters to finish the job.

Still suffering? Seek expert advice.

In order to properly treat any allergy issues that could arise during the holidays, you’ll need to seek expert advice. If you’ve tried over-the-counter allergy medications and haven’t found relief, it’s time to have a skin test to uncover the root of your suffering. “Skin tests take about 15 minutes, and we can give you the results right in the office,” says Dr. Leigh. “They’ll hone in on the exact sources of your sniffles—whether that’s mold, dogs, cats or any other common allergen.” An appointment with an allergist will identify your allergy triggers, discuss effective controls and develop a treatment plan that will keep you feeling well all winter long.

 Find relief before the holidays by scheduling an appointment at an Allergy & Asthma Specialists location near you, call 1-800-86COUGH, extension 2 or visit their website today. Offices are located in Center City Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Blue Bell, Jenkintown, Doylestown, Lansdale, Collegeville and Pottstown.