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ALLERGIC to CHRISTMAS?

Seasonal allergies can turn this into the sneezin' season.

A cold? Bah humbug! That stuffy, itchy nose and nagging cough you always get this time of year could be an allergy, brought on by dusty tree ornaments, the scent or the sap of your tree and green wreaths — or even your heating system.

“The holidays are a hidden allergy season,” says Ira Finegold, MD, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “About 5 million Americans may have allergic reactions at holiday time, which is nothing to sneeze at. Many people mistake holiday allergies for a cold or simply holiday stress.”

You might suffer from a holiday allergy if you typically experience these December symptoms: sneezing, itchy eyes, stuffy nose, wheezing, coughing or a rash. If you’re allergic during the holidays, there’s a good chance you’re also allergic to dust, mold or tree sap at other times of the year.

“A cold that lasts for more than a week without fever could also be an indication of allergies,” says Kenneth F. Garay, MD, an otolargyngologist practicing in New Jersey.

Snuff Out Seasonal Sneezin’

To keep seasonal allergies from spoiling your fun, try these tactics:

Fake it. No matter what kind of pine you pick, it’s bound to have sap and a scent. “The only safe option is an artificial Christmas tree,” says Dr. Finegold. The same goes for wreaths and garlands. You’ll still need to rid them of a year’s worth of dust mites, so be sure to vacuum or wipe them with a damp cloth, says Dr. Garay.

If you must have a real tree, spray it outside first with the garden hose to remove pollen residue. Wear gloves as you’re putting up the tree to avoid skin-to-skin contact with the sap. If you’re allergic to the pine scent, wear a surgical or dust mask to minimize inhaling the allergen. A prescription antihistamine may help alleviate symptoms.

Another option is immunotherapy — being vaccinated against seasonal allergens. There’s a form of “rush” vaccination that works very quickly to speed up the desensitization process. Ask your allergist.

Don a dust mask when unpacking ornaments. Or have someone else unwrap and dust them for you in the garage. After Christmas, store ornaments in non-cardboard containers, such as a large pretzel tin or plastic bin. “They’re less apt to collect dust,” says Dr. Finegold.

Wash your Christmas tree skirt. If it smells moldy, get a new one.

Clean your home’s heating system. Irritating dust can circulate through the air in your home every time the heat comes on. If the air in your home is dry, get a humidifier. “Dry air can affect the flow of mucus through the sinuses and the nose, exacerbating allergy and sinus symptoms,” says Dr. Garay.

Sandra Gordon is a freelance writer.

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