Allergies at Christmas
Christmas is a time of celebration with parties, festive food and sweet treats, but it can also be a time of increased risk of reactions for individuals with allergies. Celebrations within your own home are generally easy to control as you’re the one hosting and providing the goods, but when celebrating with others outside the safety of your home, it may take a little more planning. Others often don’t realize the increased risk of reactions at Christmas time, so it is vital you know how to stay allergy safe at Christmas.
Deck the Halls with . . Mould and Dust. . .
1. Christmas Trees
Mould and pollen on real Christmas trees can cause problems for individuals with allergies. Studies have shown that shaking as much debris as possible out of the tree before bringing it inside or rinsing off the tree with a hose and sprayer, and then leaving the tree somewhere warm to dry for a couple of days before bringing it into the house, have reduced allergy symptoms. Using an air compressor to blow off debris might be an alternative to avoid having to dry the tree out afterward.
The same applies for artificial Christmas trees and dust mite allergies. Artificial Christmas trees that have been improperly stored can accumulate significant amounts of dust, mold spores, and other irritating detritus. In addition, some of the materials used to manufacture artificial Christmas trees could cause sinus irritation for those who are especially sensitive. This means that, regardless of what type of tree you buy, it would be advisable to clean the tree off, before bringing it into your home.
Christmas decorations are usually stored in boxes in the attic or a closet and set aside for 11 months of the year. During this time decorations stored in boxes and bags may gather dust, mould spores and other allergens causing problems for individuals with allergies.
- It is advised to wipe down the decorations with a damp cloth before putting up and storing away in an airtight containers to avoid dust build up.
3. Christmas Food and Treats
As the festive season approaches, often we tend to dine out more, attend more parties and social events and enjoy seasonal food, all which may increase the risk of accidental contact with foods you may be allergic to. Christmas selection boxes and advent calendars are a novelty for children during the holidays but can be a cause of concern for parents who are concerned about their child’s food allergies. These treat boxes often contain a variety of treats and chocolates from a range of brands and often contain allergens and May Contain Statements. These treats could cause an allergic reaction for individuals with allergies.
- Check with the individual themselves or their parents, what brands are safe for them.
- If unsure of child’s particular allergies, source a brand free from top 14 allergens,
4. Kissing under the Mistletoe
If you have food allergies, it is possible that you could have an allergic reaction immediately after kissing someone who has eaten the food or taken oral medication that you are allergic to. Allergists recommend that the non-allergic partner brush his or her teeth, rinses his or her mouth and avoids the offending food for 16 to 24 hours before kissing your child or someone who is highly allergic to that food. For more information, regarding socialising see my post on Going Out.
5. Outdoor Allergens
The mould and mildew in decaying leaves outside can be brought indoors by shoes and clothes. Individuals with allergies to mould may experience allergy symptoms if mould spores are indoors.
Pet allergies may worsen around the holidays as they tend to spend more time indoors in your home or in the home of friends and family. Reduce your pet allergies by washing your hands and face frequently after playing with or feeding your pets and keep carpets vacuumed and floors swept. The protein in pet dander that causes allergic reactions can be carried by clothes so you may eve find pet dander in pet-free homes. If visiting relatives and friends during the holidays, always take you allergy medication with you such as your inhalers and anti-histamines.
See my post on Pet Allergies here.
7. Medication and Anti-Allergy Belongings
It’s extremely important to have your allergy medication with you at all times and ensure that it is in date. Whenever you leave the house you should have all your medication your doctor has advised:
When traveling during the holidays, it’s a good idea to bring your own anti-allergy personal items such as:
- Anti-Allergy Pillowcase
- An Eye cooling Mask (in case your eyes become itchy and puffy)
If eating out at Christmas parties see my post on Eating Out, but if attending Christmas parties hosted by someone at their house, read below.
Step 1- Invitations
Contact the person hosting the party when you get the invite to ensure it will be safe for yourself or your child. This allows them to take your allergy into account when planning and shopping for party food. Explain your allergies clearly, indicating what foods they need to avoid and perhaps offer an alternative to certain foods, or a brand you can trust.
For example, if the allergy is nuts, advise a particular chocolate option you can eat rather than a Mars, Snickers bars that contains or may contain nuts. Instead of a bowl of nuts for refreshments, suggest a bowl of pretzels or crisps. This will make it easier for the host as remember you are the expert on what you can eat, and the host may not have any prior knowledge on food allergies. You don’t want to panic them or add more stress so offer alternatives.
Top Tip: Lead by example with your party invitations or event on Facebook with a clear notice asking if any guests have food allergies or specific dietary requirements. Even if you know none of their friends do, it is a great way to spread awareness on the topic and will encourage others to include this on their child’s invitations.
Step 2: Party Food
Discuss the menu! Discuss the food the host is planning to serve and if it is suitable for you.
They may have planned to serve pizza, curry or finger food, in this case if the food is safe you could offer a particular brand of pizza or spring rolls/sausages from the supermarket that you trust so there are no unusual toppings/sauces that may be a concern.
Depending on what suits the host you could offer recipes that are safe, with a list of safe foods available from the supermarket, or to bring your own food to the party. Ideally it is best to have eaten your own meal before heading to the party if you are unsure about cross-contamination.
As mentioned above indicate what party food is suitable for example, certain brands of chocolate/crisps so that the host can plan in advance when shopping for party food. Even offer to accompany them when shopping to help advise what food is safe.
If unsure about certain foods, ask to check the wrappers so that you are aware of all of the ingredients plus any may contain statements. Be aware that the allergy information for boxes of mixed chocolates or individual chocolates may differ from the regular-size chocolates and ask the host to keep an eye out for guests/relatives bringing extra food to the party , which has not been checked for allergens.
Step 3: Drinks
Food allergies are associated with food and often people don’t realise that there is an equal risk of allergic reactions to drinks. Festive drinks at Christmas time can be a cause of concern for individuals with allergies. These new and interesting festive drinks can be spiced or flavoured with potential allergens.
Often cocktails contain certain allergens that may not be labelled in the ingredients as recipes can change frequently. Reused equipment that may not have been cleaned thoroughly as well as utensils that are used to add ingredients or toppings (i.e sprinkle of nuts or chocolate on top). Cross contact can occur with drink stirrers, shakers and other utensils used to mix drinks as with condiments like sprigs of mint or slices of fruit. If you want to be adventurous over Christmas with your drink choices, it’s important to consider allergens such as
- Almonds in some gins such as Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire
- Pine nuts in craft beer
- Milk in cream liquors
- Sulphites in wine
- Gluten in beers & spirits
It is worth noting the different types of milk that may be used in cocktails, for example almond milk, hazelnut milk. Some alcoholic drinks contain raw egg whites – the white ‘fuzz’ of a Pisco sour, for example, is from beaten egg whites. Raw eggs are particularly dangerous in people with egg allergies.
Also, be wary of friends taking a sip of your drink, or trying a friends drink, especially after dinner as there may be a traces of the allergen on the glass or even from their hands holding the glass.
Step 4: Medications
If you carry anti-histamines, epi-pen or inhalers, you may wish to discuss this with your host or just your friends that are accompanying you there. It is vital at least one or 2 people know where your medication is and when to administrate it. Initially, if the host has no previous experience of allergies they may be a bit overwhelmed however simply lay out clear steps for them or a friend to follow if a reaction does occur.
- State clearly where in their bag the medication is, when and how to use it. You could store it safety in the kitchen or utility area of the party if you asked the host.
- Explain the symptoms to look out for and that you will know when a reaction is coming on.
- In the case of a reaction and the epi-pen is used, make sure to call the ambulance after administering it.
Step 5: Contact Information
It is important for a family member or friend to be contacted if a reaction occurs. If going out with friends they will be able to contact family from your phone but in the event that your close friends are not around when you have an allergic reaction, it is important that there are clear labelled contacts to call in case of an emergency.
If you have an Apple iPhone, ensure your *Medical ID* is set up with contact numbers in case of an emergency.
If you have an Android phone, you might have an emergency contact feature in your phone’s setting. Check there first as it might be under a sub-menu such as ‘My Information’. If you can’t find an emergency contact field within the settings, there are apps for adding ICE (In Case of an Emergency) info, but you’ll need one that has a widget accessible from the lock screen.
In my contacts I have an *I.C.E* (In Case of an Emergency) number in my contacts which for me is my father’s number. Ensure your mobile is fully charged so contact numbers can be found in case of an emergency.
Step 6: Stay calm
If a reaction occurs at a Christmas party, it is important to remain calm. You know the steps:
What to do if someone has anaphylaxis:
- The first line treatment for symptoms is the EpiPen which contains adrenaline (epinephrine) administered into the upper outer muscle of the thigh. Use an adrenaline auto-injector if the person has one – but make sure you know how to use it correctly first.
- Call 999 or 112 for an ambulance immediately (even if they start to feel better) – mention that you think the person has anaphylaxis.
- Be prepared to use a second EpiPen if you don’t get relief within 5 to 15 minutes, or if there’s a delay in getting to an emergency room and symptoms recur.
And we know the steps of how to use the Epi-Pen:
Make sure that anywhere you go, you bring your two adrenaline auto-injectors and anti histamines with you at all times. Educate the people around you on how to use the auto-injectors and when to use them. Ensure that your auto-injectors are in date and are stored at room temperature in their EpiPen case. If you forget your pen either go home and get it or don’t eat. This may seem harsh but it could save your life. Make sure that every bag you buy is big enough to fit your Epipens and tablets/medication so that you are comfortable brining them and you’ll get into the habit of always checking that they are with you.