December 19, 2014

Live trees, scented candles hijack the holidays for allergy sufferers

Loyola allergist shares tips to prevent allergy flare-ups

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (December 19, 20014) – The many smells and tastes of the holidays that get so many in a festive mood can make others sick, thanks to allergic reactions. But with some seasonal savvy, allergy sufferers can breathe easy this time of year.

“The dust from the boxes and on the decorations that have been packed away in dank basements or dusty attics is triggering reactions in my allergy and asthma patients,” said Rachna Shah, MD, affiliate faculty member at Loyola Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and an allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

The holidays are supposed to be a happy time of the year. But popular seasonal items, such as fresh trees, scented air fresheners and live plants, make the holidays miserable for many.

Here are Dr. Shah’s top five tips for easy breathing this holiday season:

Clean the tree – Artificial or real, a tree can cause allergy problems. “A tree that is moldy exponentially increases home spore counts after just a few days, triggering reactions and illness,” Dr. Shah said. “Some have found relief by spraying down the tree with water to remove mold and then limiting the amount of time the tree is indoors to 12 days or less."

The clean fragrance from the live balsam, fir and pine trees is pleasing, but it can aggravate respiratory conditions.

“No variety of live tree is less allergenic than any other,” Dr. Shah said. “Artificial is best if you have allergies."

The scent of a freshly cut tree as well as elements of its care can wreak havoc on your airways and nasal passages.

“The water in the tree holder also grows stagnant and collects mold, which is detrimental to those with allergies,” Dr. Shah said.

Decorations used to adorn the tree may also be dusty, scented or carry irritants. If you choose an artificial tree, make sure the branches, as well as decorations, are dry and moisture-free. “Artificial trees and holiday decorations can grow mold if they get wet, as they often do in humid basements or attics,” she warned.

Prepare for parties – Bring your own treats, especially for kids, at social gatherings where allergenic foods may be plentiful and the only option. “Those with egg, nut or dairy allergies especially can play it safe and enjoy the parties if they know what they are eating and drinking,” Dr. Shah said. “Communicating in advance with the host can help avoid illness."

Pamper the pet – Dogs and cats spend more time indoors during the winter months and often bring allergens in with them from their trips outdoors, contaminating the environment for those with sensitive respiratory systems.

“Have your dog and cat groomed more often to remove dander and hair,” Shah said.  HEPA filters also help filter pet hair of all kinds as well.

Relax – “Anxiety has been shown to increase asthma symptoms,” Dr. Shah said. “Use relaxation methods such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga to maintain control during the holiday hustle and bustle."

Never use scented candles or fragrance oils – The popularity of home fragrance products and scented specialty candles reaches a peak during the holidays - and so do allergies. Unplug the electric scent distributors and take a pass on the potpourri simmering pots.

“Far from creating an inviting home, the fragrance aggravates the sinuses and respiratory system so sufferers can’t breathe,” Dr. Shah said.

Avoid real poinsettias and fresh flowers – “The moist soil encourages the growth of mold. And if there is mold in your house, you are breathing mold spores,” Dr. Shah said. This causes air passageways to swell, which restricts airflow. It can even cause skin rashes.

Keep the humidity in check – Warm and cool air humidifiers are up and running in many homes now that the cold, dry air is here. “Get a gauge and keep the humidity no higher than 48 to 50 percent,” Dr. Shah said. “Too much humidity encourages the growth of mold, which triggers allergic reactions."

Store decorations in plastic tubs – Save yourself some sneezes next year by purchasing large resealable plastic tubs to store decorations. Dust them occasionally during the year.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 92 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 129,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.