'Tis the Season to Be Sniffly

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"Individuals with asthma have sensitive airways, so strong odors like scented candles can cause symptoms," says Dr. Miles Weinberger, director of the Pediatric Allergy and Pulmonary Division at the University of Iowa.

And while artificial snow in aerosol cans can make the windows looks extra festive, the spray releases chemicals into the air that can trigger an asthma attack or an allergic reaction, Bassett says.

"Artificial snow is a no-no," he says. "it's almost like an air pollutant."

And the holidays "are a period of time when people may not suspect that they have allergies," he adds.

They're not on the lookout because "they're not putting together that there's a pattern around this time of year."

One troublemaker around the holidays is a common household item: dust.

When decorations are stored in attics and cellars for months before the holidays, they tend to gather dust and even mold, which can cause adverse reactions.

Combine the dust stirred up by a dozen or so trips to the basement with the dry air blowing around by a central heating system and it's a perfect storm for those with dust allergies, Daines notes.

"Anytime someone is up in the attic getting things out or turning on the furnace for the first time of the season," he says, "and it blows dust out of the ducts -- [it] can make anyone with asthma have a mild flare."

So if you're noticing a runny nose and itchy eyes that may not be just the beginnings of a cold, Bassett suggests taking steps to reduce the dust.

Wipe down dusty decorations before putting them out and make sure to bring your allergy medication with you when you travel to help reduce symptoms, and be prepared in case of an allergic episode.

Tips and Tricks for Tinsel Time

So what can you do to avoid having a Rudolph-red nose -- or, worse, a trip to the E.R. -- around the holidays? Bassett and Daines give the following advice on dodging allergies this winter.



O Christmas Tree

Wash off Christmas trees with a garden hose to get rid of extra pollen or mold that may be on the branches and let them dry out in the garage before bringing them into the house.

Wear long sleeves and gloves when handling the tree to avoid skin irritation.

If a real tree is aggravating to your allergies, consider using an artificial tree but be sure to store it in an airtight container to prevent dust and mold from collecting, and wipe it down when you take it out from storage each year.

Eating Out

If you have a life-threatening allergy, make that clear to your server and perhaps even write it down for them or call ahead to inform the restaurant.

Make sure kids with allergies wear medical bracelets that clearly state their allergies.

Avoid buffets if you have food allergies because oftentimes serving utensils are used for multiple dishes and can cross-contaminate food.

When in doubt, bring your own snacks as back-up.

Stay Merry, Not Miserable

Stress can hinder the immune system and aggravate asthma or allergies, so make time to escape the chaos of the holiday season and be sure to get plenty of sleep.

Don't be too busy to take care of yourself: Keep up with medications and address symptoms immediately.

For more information on how to cope with allergies this winter, check out the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology at www.aaaai.org or the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at www.allergyandasthmarelief.org.

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