McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster expert offers tips for allergy and asthma sufferers to slide through holidays

Published: December 21, 2012
Susan Waserman
Dr. Susan Waserman, a professor of medicine in the Department of Clinical Immunology and Allergy

For people with allergies and asthma, it can be an uphill battle to simply enjoy the Christmas holiday season and stay healthy.

"Holidays can be a very challenging time of year for people with allergies, but there are strategies and some useful tips that allergic individuals and especially parents of allergic children can navigate with a minimum of difficulty," said Dr. Susan Waserman, professor of medicine in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy in McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

Christmas and New Year’s involves a lot of socialization, making it difficult to stay vigilant as there are many allergenic foods that are traditionally served such as tree nuts, shell fish, and egg, said Waserman. After a holiday she sees people who have experienced an allergic reaction to food from a holiday buffet. "Accidental ingestion at this time of year is not uncommon," she said.

Dr. Waserman offers tips to allergy and asthma sufferers:

  • Speak to the host, or hostess, and tell them what you are allergic to.
  • Offer to bring your own food to a get-together so you or your child can eat safely.
  • Suggest you will be responsible for overseeing the foods your child eats and offer where possible to look after the "children’s menu."
  • Young children especially need to be reminded to wash their hands.
  • Tell a child not to eat any food that isn’t given to them by their parents or grandparents where applicable. Keeping an eye on a child can be a shared family responsibility.

She added that everyone should know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction such as sneezing, itchy eyes, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing. If you are experiencing symptoms after eating and have known allergies, epinephrine should be administered and medical help (911) called.

Waserman said people need to be aware that food allergies are not the only source of problems during the holidays — asthma can also be triggered by house dust, scented candles, smoke from an open fireplace and even mites and mould on a Christmas tree. Be aware that these things can trigger symptoms. Although an artificial Christmas tree can solve the problem of asthma and allergies triggers, if a real tree is desired she suggested taking a real tree outside, washing it down, shaking it, and letting it dry in the sunlight to rid it of mites and mould.

Waserman reminds asthmatics not to stop taking their medication and staying in touch with their doctor, or allergist, when necessary. "This is not the time for a drug holiday," she said.

To contact Dr. Susan Waserman:

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