Allergies at Christmas ?
Allergies, itchy skin, and eczema go hand in hand. At this time of year with all the parties, food and sweet treats, so does the increased risk of reaction.
Allergy blogger Eimear, who we met at The Allergy show in Birmingham, talks us through her top tips for celebrating the season safely whilst not missing out on the festivities.
I’m Eimear from Allergy Act, an educational platform and support group formed to help enhance the lives of individuals with food allergies. Our aim is to educate and empower individuals with allergies to lead fulfilling and safe lives through sharing personal experiences and lifestyle tips, advocacy and allergy awareness.
I’m going to share a few tips with you on how to reduce allergy symptoms this Christmas.
- Regardless of what type of tree you opt for it would be advisable to clean the tree off before bringing it into your home.
- Wipe down decorations with a damp cloth before putting up. Store away in an airtight container to avoid dust build up.
- Lead by example with your party invitations with a clear notice asking if any guests have food allergies or specific dietary requirements.
- 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.
- Remember that festive drinks, as well as food, can be spiced or flavoured with potential allergens.
- If you carry anti-histamines, Epipen or inhalers, you may wish to discuss how to use this with your host.
- If you have an Apple iPhone, ensure your *Medical ID* is set up with contact numbers in case of an emergency, or ensure your I.C.E contacts are up to date.
Deck the Halls with . . Mould and Dust. . .
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, mould 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 may gather dust, mould spores and other allergens
Wipe down the decorations with a damp cloth before putting up and storing away in an airtight container to avoid dust build up.
Kissing under the Mistletoe?
If you have food allergies, then be careful who you kiss! Kissing someone who has eaten the food or taken oral medication that you are allergic to can cause an allergic reaction. Allergists recommend that the non-allergic partner brush their teeth, rinses their mouth and avoids the allergen for 16 to 24 hours before kissing their child or someone who is highly allergic to that food.
The mould and mildew in decaying leaves outside can be brought indoors by shoes and clothes. Take off your shoes once inside to minimise any potential flare ups.
Pet allergies may worsen around the holidays as we all (pets included)! tend to spend more time indoors. Reduce allergy symptoms by washing your hands and face more often 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 even find pet dander in pet-free homes. If visiting relatives and friends during the holidays, remember to take your allergy medication with you.
Medication & Anti-allergy items.
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 carry all medication that your doctor has advised for example:
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)
- A pair of cotton gloves for protection against mould/dust inside, and under winter gloves for extra warmth when out and about.
As the festive season approaches, 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.
If attending parties hosted by friends and family follow these top tips:
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 you 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. 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/drink 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, or offer to bring something for yourself/your child if it’s easier.
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 future invitations.
Step 2: Party Food & Drinks
It’s always a good idea to have had something at home before you go to a party that you know is safe. That way you won’t be caught short and feeling hangry if there is nothing there that you can eat.
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.
Check out @allergy_act on Facebook and Instagram for informative posts on Festive Food and Drinks that you may not be aware of that contain allergens. Plus learn how to make delicious allergy free bakes like these Christmas Fruit Muffins below.
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 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 trying friends' drinks especially after dinner as there may be a trace of the allergen on the glass or even from their hands holding it.
Step 4: Medications
If you carry anti-histamines, Epipen or inhalers, you may wish to discuss this with your host. 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 your 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 Epipen 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). 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.
How to use the EpiPen:
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, remember you are the one who knows the most about your allergies and people like to know how to help. 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 stop by the shop to get something you know is safe to eat/ drink for your body. Make sure that your bag can fit your EpiPens and tablets/medication so that you are comfortable bringing them and you'll get into the habit of always checking that they are with you.
Thank you so much to Eimear for sharing these fantastic tips on how to have a safe and happy holiday whilst living with Allergies. Do be sure to check out her Instagram and Facebook page for some delicious recipes and ideas on allergen free-living, and keep your eyes peeled for Cotton Comfort’s top tips for living with itchy skin at Christmas which will be on the blog next week!