Pass the tissues and antihistamine please -- 'tis the season for holiday allergies. Like unwanted gifts, sneezing and congestion arrive, making allergy sufferers miserable and putting a damper on holiday fun.
Fortunately you don't have to be sidelined from the festivities. Whether it's symptoms to food, pets, mold or mildew, allergies during the holidays can be beat -- with lifestyle changes, medication, and a few simple tips.
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Lots of holiday favorites can trigger or irritate allergies, from food and pets to wood-burning fires and seasonal greenery.
And while you may manage allergy symptoms pretty well most of the year, symptoms to indoor allergens like these can really spike during the holiday season.
Why? Blame our tendency to snuggle in when the weather cools.
"You're in a closed-up house, the heater is on, the windows shut --- that's why indoor allergies get worse in the winter," says Asriani Chiu, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine (allergy/immunology), at the College of Wisconsin.
You can do a lot to alleviate holiday allergies -- but first you need to know what's triggering your symptoms to begin with.
What's Behind Holiday Allergies
More than 40 million Americans cope with year-round allergies; the causes can be nearly as varied as the people and their locations. But there are some common holiday allergy triggers, including:
Food. Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas: winter holidays mean lots of dining away from home, plenty of seasonal foods, and an abundance of parties -- all of which heighten the chances you'll accidentally eat -- or be outright tempted by -- foods you're allergic to.
Mold. It's invisible to the naked eye, it floats in the air like pollen, and your exposure to it may increase during the holidays because mold spores love damp evergreens like the wreaths, boughs, and trees we bring inside this time of year. The mold and mildew in decaying leaves only adds to the irritation as we track them inside on shoes and clothes.
Pets. Your pets probably enjoy the seasonal socializing as much as you do. That's one reason symptoms to pet allergies can worsen around the holidays; pets are indoors more, both at your house and in the homes of friends and family.
Dust mites. These microscopic allergens are a perennial allergy irritant and they can be even more aggravating around the holidays when the air gets damp and we spend time in hotel rooms and in other people's beds.
While it helps to know why your allergies may kick up during the holidays, it's just as important to know what you can do to relieve symptoms -- or avoid triggers completely.
Hints to Help Control Holiday Allergies
Avoiding Mold and Mildew
Christmas trees and wreaths. While many people think it's the tree or other seasonal greens causing their holiday allergies, it's actually the mold spores on these plants. If mold is your nemesis, you may want to steer clear of fresh trees, boughs, and wreaths, says Chiu, and consider switching to artificial decorations. Or, to make live greenery less inclined to trigger allergies during the holidays, try hosing plants down before bringing them inside, to get rid of existing spores.