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  • Alfred M. Sassler, DO, FAAOA, FACS

Don’t blame your tree for holiday allergies

Just when you thought you were done with seasonal allergies, the holidays roll around and you find yourself coughing, sniffling and sneezing everywhere you go.

While it is easy to blame culprits, like your Christmas tree, winter allergies aren’t always quite what they seem. Allergies are a response of an overactive immune system to normal features of the environment. They often show up early in life when children are young, but exposure to new stimuli later in life can trigger an allergic response.

Allergens are proteins which trigger an “inflammatory response,” leading to the familiar symptoms of coughing, sniffling and sneezing. In our region, the most common culprit for allergies is pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, with spring and fall being the worst seasons for allergy symptoms.

Christmas trees themselves are seldom the cause of allergies. Rather, the dust and mold that often comes with live trees (or artificial trees that have been sitting in attics or basements for 11 months) is really to blame for your allergy symptoms.

What makes winter allergies particularly harsh is the fact that, especially in our region, the heater is often running, and there is little air flow in homes. That means dust, mold and animal dander, which may settle into ductwork in older homes especially, will circulate, while the drier air causes increased sensitivity in the sinuses.

In addition to allergies, the holiday season can bring out chemical sensitivities. While allergies are caused by proteins in the environment, chemical sensitivities are caused by irritants. Sensitivities are not genetic, and not able to be measured with allergy tests. Some common irritants include scented candles and cleaning products, which can cause the same watery eyes and irritation that allergies do.

While winter allergies may seem hard to avoid, there are some simple steps you can take to limit your reaction to them. If you are sensitive to dust, mold or dander, be sure to change the air filters in your home every three months (or more frequently if you have a lot of pets or are extra sensitive). If you are going to a place that you know has a lot of allergens, like your great aunt’s who has seven cats, pretreat by taking an over-the-counter antihistamine and rinsing your nose with saline. After exposure, rinse off and change your clothes to get any particles off of you.

If you find that your allergies are compromising your lifestyle, it might be time to contact a physician. Even if you simply want help determining what the best over-the-counter options are, we can help to determine the best treatment regimen for you.


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