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Allergies and holidays: A survival guide

Illustration - Dog in front of a holiday decorated fireplace and a plate of cookies
If you, or your guests, have food, animal or dust allergies, use these tips to survive the holidays.

From sketchy potlucks to cat-crazed relatives, the holiday season can present some shaky situations for anyone with allergies.

The same goes for anyone hosting family or other guests. What if someone has a food allergy and can’t eat my fancy roasted nut loaf? What should I do about my dog, Dave, and his dander?

The good news is this: no matter which side of the allergy fence you’re on, getting through the holidays is easy if you take a few simple steps.

Dr. Kevin Keller, a Marshfield Clinic allergist, helped compile this survival guide to keep itchy eyes at bay and asthma reactions away when dealing with allergies and the holidays.

Dealing with pets

If you have indoor pets and one of your overnight guests is allergic to dogs or cats, designate one bedroom as “pet free.”

That means clean one room thoroughly, keeping the pet out of the bedroom:

  • Vacuum all carpets and furniture.
  • Put freshly washed linens on the bed.
  • Wipe all hard surfaces.

The responsibility also falls on the person with allergies, Keller said. If you have an animal allergy, take proper medication in advance and carry any eye drops, inhalers or other medicines you may need.

If your allergy is severe, you may want to stay at a hotel, Keller said.

Food – avoid cross contamination

Holiday parties. Fresh-baked cookies in the office. Even dinner at grandma’s.

All are perfect opportunities for foods to “mingle” with other foods, leading to potentially dangerous and life threatening situations for people with food allergies.

The single best way to avoid allergic reactions is to prevent cross contamination. That means keep foods COMPLETELY separate, from preparation through serving time.

“Many people don’t realize you only need traces of a nut to cause a severe allergic reaction in some people,” Keller said.

How to avoid cross contamination:

  • Use separate serving utensils for each dish.
  • Make your guests aware of food allergies so they don’t mix items.
  • When cooking, use clean utensils to prepare each dish.
  • Wash hands and counters between handling different foods.
  • Consider making “allergy-free” dishes separate from others.

“It’s thoughtful to ask ahead of time if someone has a food allergy,” Keller said.

If you have a food allergy, always carry an EpiPen. Learn how to use an EpiPen with this video.

Manage dust and mold

Dust, which is heavy, tends to settle on surfaces and deep in carpets.

“House dust contains various particulate matter, including among other things, dust mite and mold allergens,” Keller said. “Vacuuming using vacuum cleaners that have high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration or using a central vacuum system with adequate filtration or that vents to the outside helps reduce exposure to dust mite and mold contained in dust.”

Keller notes that using regular vacuum cleaners can stir up dust and actually make allergy symptoms worse.

“Mite allergen proof mattresses, box springs and pillow encasements along with washing bedding on a regular basis helps to decrease exposure to dust mite allergens,” he said. “Keeping relative humidity in the home less than 50%helps decrease the growth of both dust mites and mold. Air purifiers are relatively ineffective in reducing levels of dust mite exposure.”

And those holiday decorations? Mold can live there, too. Often, people with mold allergies may have problems with Christmas trees because mold grows on the bark.

“Pollen actually isn’t the problem because the trees aren’t producing it this time of year,” Keller said.

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