As a kid I can clearly remember being allergic to lots of things. For example, school, brussel sprouts and possibly even girls. However, one thing was for sure, I was definitely not allergic to Christmas.
Wind the clock forward a few years and now I’m the proud dad of two boys. Funny thing is, now I’m not so sure about not being allergic to Christmas. Maybe it’s the having to watch painful school Xmas plays and the demanding Santa letters from the kids, or maybe it is the host of holiday season allergy triggers that all come together at this time of the year.
So, if you thought seasonal allergies were just about the summer with the pollen count going sky high then you may have think again. Most of the allergy triggers below are seasonal and they are all at their worst around the holidays.
Coming in at the top of the list is the veritable symbol of Christmas itself – the Christmas tree. This centrepiece of the festive living room can be enough to put a bit of a damper on your celebrations. Beneath the lights and baubles lurk any number of potential allergens.
The biggest issue with live Christmas trees is mold. The early winter is when molds are at their most abundant and this tends to be when the trees are cut before being stored away in advance of Christmas. Often kept in humid environments the molds flourish until they are sold and brought into your house. Here, in the warm cosy surrounds of your home the mold thrives with the spore count increasing as much as 7 to 8 times. To anyone allergic to mould this is bad news.
One study identified as many as 53 different types of mold present on trees and those most likely to trigger allergies or asthma attacks were found in the highest quantities. These molds include cladosporium which is generally found outside.
So, if the arrival of the Xmas tree coincides with your nose running, eyes itching or even an asthma attack then you may well be suffering from “Christmas Tree Syndrome”. If you do, the best advice is to spray the tree with dilute bleach and give it a good hose down before bringing it in the house.
Another less common cause of Christmas tree related allergies is a resin contained in the tree’s sap. Terpene can cause irritation to the skin and mucous membranes resulting in all the usual allergic symptoms.
Now, if you thought an artificial Christmas tree might be the answer to all your problems then we’ve got bad news. These tend, by their very nature, to get put away for eleven months of the year only to be retrieved from the back of the loft every December. If you suffer from dust allergies you might be able to see the problem here. Artificial trees are a perfect dust trap and the chances are your tree has accumulated a fair coating of dust and putting it up is going to trigger your allergy.
The same goes for Christmas decorations which may become a haven for dust mites.
Christmas food & drink
Christmas is the season to be merry, and this means plenty of indulgence. Whether this involves eating out, parties or a well-stocked larder, the holidays are a particularly risky time for those with food allergies.
The most common food allergies in adults are fish, shellfish, nuts, and wheat. Whilst seafood isn’t a Christmas tradition nuts certainly are and these can crop up where you least expect them. Given the potential severity of reactions to food allergies it cannot be overstated that those who have one must be particularly vigilant about what they eat over the holidays. That means making it clear to anyone preparing your food exactly what you are allergic to – better to seem a little awkward than end up in E.R.
The drinking and being merry part of “eat, drink and be merry” invariably involves drinking more alcohol than usual around Christmas time. Whilst it is extremely uncommon to be allergic to alcohol itself there are plenty of additives and ingredients in many drinks that can result in some form of reaction.
The most likely causes of an adverse reaction to alcohol are naturally occurring histamines and the sulfites added as preservatives. It should come as little surprise that histamines can cause an allergic response, given that antihistamines are what we take to calm our symptoms. The worst offender in terms of histamine content is red wine, with whisky and beer next on the list.
White wine on the other hand has the highest levels of sulfites. These are a common asthma trigger with in the region of 10% to 30% of asthmatics experiencing some symptoms such as wheezing when drunk.
Scented candles & other festive fragrances
Over the Christmas period your nose is likely to take a bit more abuse than the rest of the year. The holidays are smelly season with all that extra perfume at social events, the festive potpourri and air fresheners. Whilst these all help create a more seasonal ambience they can also cause irritation to eyes, noses and lungs of those who are allergy-prone.
Perhaps the most Christmassy of all offenders are scented candles. Unfortunately these festive fragrances pack some of the same chemicals as regular perfumes which are a common cause of allergies and sensitivities. Whilst reactions are usually quite mild, resembling the ‘classic’ allergic reaction of runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing, they can be more unpleasant. Stronger reactions include symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nausea, skin reactions and breathing difficulties.
The same is true for other scented products such as air-fresheners and sprays. Unfortunately it is often the case that people don’t realise that it is a fragrance that is causing the reaction.
Balloons & Christmas plants
Balloons are a staple of any party. It is hard to imagine there is anything sinister about these cheerful, bouncy, balls of fun – that is unless you have a latex allergy. Until relatively recently this allergy was almost unheard of but the increased use of rubber gloves, particularly within the medical world has caused cases to rise rapidly. Those over-sensitised to latex can suffer a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction when exposed to even tiny amounts of latex.
One of the risks of latex allergy is that tiny particles can become airborne meaning direct contact isn’t even necessary and this can directly cause respiratory symptoms. This was certainly the case in one account I read where a lady suffered severe anaphylactic shock after being in a room with lots of balloons.
And balloons aren’t the only festive regular that can affect those with latex allergy. The poinsettia plant is a popular symbol of Christmas throughout North America, it is also part of the same family as the rubber tree. For those affected touching or even being near a poinsettia can cause skin rashes, wheezing or more serious symptoms.