Oct. 18, 1999 Seasonal Fluctuations
DENVER-“Allergies are often seasonal,” says Dan Atkins, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Care Unit at National Jewish Medical and Research Center. “The symptoms fluctuate, disappear and reoccur, based on the season. It’s important to have an action plan for each time of year and be aware of the triggers.”
Molds that plague allergy sufferers nestle snugly into the colorful fall landscape. Exposure to molds can dampen autumn tasks such as raking leaves and composting. To avoid allergic reactions, wear a filter mask or let someone else handle outdoor chores.
In addition, cool fall and winter air can be a cause of asthma attacks. “Pre-treat if you know that cold air causes flare-ups,” Dr. Atkins advises. “Take your medications before going out, and wear a scarf to cover your nose and mouth.” Indoor air can cause problems as furnaces and heating systems suddenly come to life on chilly fall nights. “Have the system cleaned and change the filters,” Dr. Atkins advises, “so that the furnace doesn’t blow out dust the first time you turn it on.”
Halloween Allergen Safeguards
Halloween can scare up more than ghosts and goblins for children with allergies. “There are many setups for reactions,” Dr. Atkins says. “Some children have food allergies. When trick-or-treating, kids often eat candy as they go. Prepare snacks for food allergic kids so they’ll have something safe to munch on as they go from house to house. Have a responsible parent along. He or she can carry medications in case of a reaction.” Once the ghosts and goblins return home, go through the treats and remove any to which your child may have allergies.
Holiday Food, Festivities and Gifts
At Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas, family and friends gather in celebration. “People are hugging and kissing hello and goodbye,” Dr. Atkins notes, “and, unfortunately, respiratory viruses get passed around. If you have a cold, use good judgment about close physical contact.”
Food preparation is an issue for those with food allergies. “Maybe you can eat your own turkey dressing,” Dr. Atkins says, “but you go to a party where the hostess makes hers 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 hostess know, especially if kids have food allergies. Call ahead. Take time to be prepared.”
Chanukah and Christmas gifts are seasonal delights, but talk to parents of kids with allergies before shopping. “Let parents make the decision about gifts such as stuffed animals or live pets that can trigger allergic reactions,” Dr. Atkins advises. “Look for toys that don’t have strong odors associated with them.”
Christmas Trees and Decorations
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 more likely irritants. “The Christmas tree issue is overemphasized,” Dr. Atkins says. He finds very few cases among allergy patients in which the tree is the culprit. Allergic reactions usually occur shortly after an encounter with an allergen, such as dust mites or molds.
Unpacking the Christmas ornaments can trigger allergic reactions. “Decorations stored for the past year in a damp basement harbor molds, dust mites and other allergens,” Dr. Atkins says. “Moving, carrying and unpacking the Christmas boxes stirs up dust and transfers allergens to the hands and the respiratory system. People are first aware of the symptoms while decorating the Christmas tree and assume that the tree is the cause.
“Keep ornaments and decorations stored in dry areas, off the floor, in plastic bags,” he advises. “Wash your hands after unpacking decorations. If you’re very concerned about allergy symptoms, allow others to trim the tree.” Artificial trees can be a good alternative, depending on storage. “If it’s sitting in pieces on the basement or attic floor for a year,” Dr. Atkins says, “the tree will collect dust and mold. Just remember to keep it sealed in a plastic bag in an area free of dust and moisture.”
The Number 1 Respiratory Hospital in the U.S. for Two Consecutive Years, U.S. News & World Report, 1998-2000.
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