Living With Allergies

Allergies Getting in the Way of Your Holidays? Here's How to Handle Them

Photo of snow falling on a forest of evergreen trees.
Photo by Grant Lemons via Unsplash

‘Tis the season for joy, merriment, and...winter allergies?

Sniffling and sneezing are probably the last things you want to associate with this festive time of year, but unfortunately, allergies during the holidays happen.

From all of that pet dander at grandma’s house to the dusty decorations you pulled out of storage, the holiday season is ripe for allergy triggers that can quickly turn you into a bit of a Scrooge.

Think you need to resign yourself to misery and having a nose as red as Rudolph? Think again. There are a few ways that you can better manage your symptoms and keep your holiday allergies at bay.

Why do your allergies get worse during the holidays?

The grass isn’t growing and the flowers aren’t blooming—so why are you struggling with allergies now? There are a number of different allergens in the home that are especially common during the holiday season.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ones, as well as how you can prevent them from sidetracking your holiday plans.

Christmas tree pollen or mold

Can you be allergic to Christmas trees? The short answer is “yes.” Studies show that your authentic fir tree can release weed, grass, and tree pollen into your home.

However, people with live Christmas trees more frequently experience “more contact rashes due to the needles or sap,” explains Dr. Amina Abdeldaim, Picnic Medical Director and board-certified allergist.

Wondering if you can have an allergy to an artificial Christmas tree? That’s less common—unless your tree has collected a lot of dust (which we’ll cover next).

What should you do? Dr. Amina advises people who have a known contact reaction to opt for an artificial Christmas tree rather than the real thing.

If you’re set on a live tree, shake it off outside as much as possible to remove debris and dirt. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center says you can even hose it down and leave it out to dry for a few days before bringing it into your home.

Dust from holiday decor

Dust mites are a major allergy trigger. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic says that they’re the single most common culprit behind year-round allergies and asthma.

Those decorations that you stashed in storage for months on end are probably full of the little critters that cause your symptoms.

What should you do? You can save yourself a lot of hassle by storing your decorations as carefully as possible. Vacuum-sealed or airtight bags can help keep dust off of your festive items. You might also want to consider storing your decorations in a closet—rather than in a damp and mold-prone area like a basement.

When you’re ready to deck the halls? Even if you stored your decor properly, it doesn’t hurt to wipe everything down with water to remove any dust that did manage to accumulate. Wear a mask to prevent breathing in too many dust mites as you clean.

Gatherings with pet owners

Whether it’s the golden retriever that won’t leave your side at your friend’s gift exchange or the two cats that are lurking around at your aunt’s house, pet dander can feel like a staple of the holiday season when visits and socializing are so common.

“In general, pet dander is very sticky and hard to avoid,” says Dr. Amina. And, to complicate matters more, you certainly don’t want to be the Grinch who tries to banish Fido from the festivities.

What do you do? It doesn’t hurt to be upfront with anyone you’re visiting about your pet allergy. They can help keep any furry friends away from you and also ensure you avoid their pet’s favorite sitting spots, beds, and more.

Beyond that, Dr. Amina advises people to wash their hands frequently and to avoid touching their eyes when they’re around that pet. Finally, showering well when you return home can help remove any remaining dander from your skin and hair.

Increased indoor heat and fireplaces

The temperatures are dipping and you need to warm up your home. But unfortunately, when you take the necessary step of turning on the heat, your allergy symptoms seem to flare up.

When your furnace kicks on, it can circulate dust and other allergens in your home. Even further, the smoke from that cozy, crackling wood fire can contain particles that cause a cough, runny nose, and burning eyes.

What do you do? You don’t have to shiver in the cold. Using a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter on your furnace can help reduce allergens. The same is true for regularly changing the filter and having your air ducts cleaned.

As far as that roaring fire is concerned, the Cleveland Clinic says it’s best to burn dry wood that has been split, covered, and stored for at least six months. And of course, you should have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned every year.

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Unfamiliar sleeping environments

There’s no place like home for the holidays—but sometimes it’s not your home.

You could be sleeping in your dusty childhood bedroom on pillows that haven’t been swapped out since you were a teenager. Or, maybe you’re staying in a guest room that has a down comforter and pillows.

From dust to bedding, your holiday sleeping arrangements could be what’s triggering your symptoms.

What do you do? While you don’t want to arrive at someone’s home and whip out your own travel duster (let’s face it—it can be a bit of an insulting remark on their housekeeping), it doesn’t hurt to give your host a heads-up about your sensitivity to dust, down or feather bedding, or all of the above.

If you still feel nervous, there’s nothing wrong with traveling with your own allergy-safe pillow to ensure you get a good night’s sleep—sans sniffling.

Enjoy the merriment (without the allergy misery)

All is calm, all is bright...except for you. You can’t stop sneezing and sniffling.

Sound familiar? Winter allergies might have a knack for sabotaging the most wonderful time of the year, but you can take some proactive steps to manage and even prevent your symptoms.

Everything we covered above can be helpful for those specific allergens, but there’s one more step that shouldn’t be skipped: taking the right allergy medications.

If you aren’t sure what options are best for you, our allergists can create a plan just for you. Answer a few questions to get started and take comfort in the fact that there’s one thing that you won’t find in your stocking this year: holiday allergies.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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