The outdoor allergy season may have ended with the frosty cold weather of fall, but it's the kickoff to the indoor allergy season that affects millions of allergy sufferers and those with asthma.
'The holidays can present a variety of challenges for asthma and allergy patients,' says Dr. Cliff Bassett, an ambassador for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). 'Our environment changes in many ways during the holidays, from having new people in our homes to bringing in potential irritants like pine trees and dusty old holiday decorations.'
AAFA offers some advice for helping minimize allergy and asthma triggers in your home this holiday season:
* If you know the guests you're inviting into your home have allergies or asthma, adjust your cleaning program to help minimize irritants. Use products that reduce allergens on hard surfaces, but don't contain harsh or potentially irritating chemicals. A vacuum with a HEPA filter can also reduce the chance of distributing dust into the air. And don't forget to change your furnace filters as well. Use a high efficiency filter that can last up to 90 days.
* Most people store holiday decorations in attics, basements or garages and they can pick up dust, mold and other irritants while in storage. Thoroughly clean stored decorations before using them in your home. If one or more of these irritants is a trigger for you, wear a mask while cleaning. When you're done with the decorations this year, clean them again before you seal them in plastic bags and store them in airtight containers.
* If you or a loved one suffers from a tree or pollen allergy, artificial trees can be a less irritating substitute, provided you opt for one that's not coated with sprayed-on 'snow.' If you will be using a live tree, you can reduce mold problems by thoroughly wiping the trunk with a solution of lukewarm water and diluted bleach (one part bleach to 20 parts water). Before you bring the tree inside, use a leaf blower to remove pollen grains.
* Everyone loves the smell of the holiday, but scented home accessories can be irritants. Limit the use of air fresheners like candles, oils and potpourri. If you really want to fill your home with a holiday aroma during a special occasion, try baking using naturally fragrant ingredients like vanilla, cinnamon or citrus.
* A crackling fire can create a warm, festive mood for holiday gatherings. To minimize potential irritation, don't use wood-burning stoves or fireplaces at all. If you use a gas fireplace, check vents and use secured doors, rather than screens, to reduce smoke entering the room.
* When giving a gift to someone with allergies or asthma, keep their potential triggers in mind. For example, some children with asthma may be irritated by the materials commonly used in stuffed animals. Look for products that do not have sensitizing or allergenic chemicals such as formaldehyde. You can also find a list of allergy and asthma-friendly products on the AAFA website, www.aafa.org/certified.
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and celebration. Take steps to minimize irritants in your home environment so everyone in your family and your guests can enjoy the season.