(BPT) - If you're wondering why you're sniffling and sneezing when you thought the worst of allergy season was behind you, don't be surprised. The pollen season may be over, but wintertime offers plenty of challenges for anyone with allergies or asthma.
"Because allergy and asthma symptoms can occur year-round, it's best to be aware of seasonal issues and your individual triggers," said Gailen Marshall, M.D., PhD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). "Knowing what to expect can help prevent flare-ups so you can relax and enjoy the holidays."
Just in time to help you get through the holiday season with a smile on your face, here are five tips to keep in mind.
1. Be prepared
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's have one thing in common — celebrating with family and friends. Because you'll be gathering with others over the holiday season, make sure to prevent transmission of viruses like the flu by being up to date with your flu shot, RSV and COVID vaccines. Having the flu can make your asthma symptoms more severe, so ACAAI recommends you protect yourself before the peak of the season. You can also substitute "air kisses" and fist bumps to keep some distance between yourself and others.
2. Real tree, or not real tree? That is the question
Because holiday decor often includes wreaths, branches and trees, the question arises if it's better to go natural or not. Both real and artificial trees and wreaths can cause problems, but you can take steps to reduce their risk of making you sneeze and wheeze.
Some people have contact skin allergies to a substance called terpene found in the sap of real trees. Also, live trees may still have mold spores and pollen on them that can cause nasal allergies to flare. Take time to rinse off live trees before bringing them in the house.
For artificial trees and other decorations you only use once a year, dust and mold can accumulate in storage. While getting ready for the holidays, consider wearing an N95 mask to clean trees and other decor before displaying them. You can use a handheld vacuum to gently remove dust from an artificial tree.
3. Eat, drink and be wary
Holiday get-togethers mean exposure to foods that may have ingredients you or someone else might be allergic to. Hosts will appreciate knowing if you or a family member has a serious food allergy, so be sure to share that information. You can offer to bring a separate dish or dishes to avoid causing disruption to your hosts. If it's your turn to host, communicate with guests about menu ingredients ahead of time in case someone has an allergy you don't know about — they will thank you!
Some people may have an intolerance to alcohol, which shows up as a stuffy nose, headache and/or flushed skin immediately after drinking — most commonly after drinking red wine and alcohol that has color. If this sounds familiar, the only way to prevent this reaction is to avoid drinking alcohol.
4. The road more traveled
If you're visiting friends or relatives over the holidays, you may encounter all kinds of triggers — whether from perfumed fellow travelers or your friends' pets — that send your allergic reactions into high gear. Cold dry outside air can also trigger your asthma. Before traveling, make sure you're up to date on your medications. Take them before your trip — and be sure to pack whatever you need to get through your travels with as little difficulty as possible.
5. See an allergist
If over-the-counter medications aren't helping your symptoms, you may want to see a board-certified allergist before the holidays get going — especially if you've never seen one or it's been a while since your last visit. Allergists are trained to diagnose and treat symptoms, and to work with you to create an individual action plan. For year-round allergy symptoms, you might consider immunotherapy (allergy shots). Allergy shots can reduce symptoms and help modify and prevent allergy development.
Find an allergist near you with the ACAAI allergist locator tool at ACAAI.org/find-an-allergist.
By following these tips and planning ahead, you'll be able to make the most of all the holidays you love to celebrate.