Christmas may be a time for goodwill to all men…but it can also be a time of red noses, sore throats, coughs and sneezes!
And for many people, the unwitting cause of their symptoms could be Christmas itself.
Studies have shown that the festive period can cause untold misery to those who are allergic or sensitive to many of the traditional contents of a home getting ready for Christmas.
For a start, there’s the tree. Reports presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology suggest that the centre-piece of our decorations could be responsible for the upswing in illness in December.
It’s a view that Maxima Skelton, founder of pioneering UK-based allergy firm the Healthy House not only agrees with – but has experienced herself.
She says: “Pine trees brought in to decorate for Christmas can pose a particular threat to allergic people, both because some people are allergic to pine but also, and more commonly, people react to the mould spores given off by Christmas trees.
“It has been found that the earlier you bring a Christmas tree into the house, the more likely you are to suffer from the effects of mould allergy over the Christmas period. This is because after about two weeks of the tree being in a warm environment the mould spores that were present on the tree (or in the soil) have proliferated to the point where they can cause a health hazard to mould allergic people. When you brush against the tree the mould spores are released into the air. The same can also apply to live garlands, wreaths and decorations.
“Trips to A&E are common over the Christmas period, particularly for asthmatic children. Though this could be a combination of excitement and allergy triggers, it seems that the well beloved Christmas tree may have something to do with it.”
Maxima’s daughter Emma was so allergic as a child that she was hospitalised, and the family was forced to make drastic changes to their lifestyle to improve her health. Maxima says: “When Emma was about 2 years old we had a memorable Christmas with a beautiful tree that we had chosen in the forest. After a few days, and after decorating the tree, she started to go berserk – crying and generally showing her signs of allergic reaction. My husband Don picked up the tree, decorations intact, and placed it out on the porch in the snow! We visited the tree on the porch over the Christmas period and as a family, will always remember that Christmas.
“Last year for the first time we decided to go natural again and bought a little tree with roots which only came into the house on Christmas Eve. We used AircCleanse (allergy spray) in the air and after a few days sprayed the tree with HomeCleanse to counteract any mould that might be starting to grow.”
The synthetic alternatives to Christmas trees are also not without their hazards. The lights which many of us use to decorate them can warm up the plastic, resulting in ‘offgassing’ – emissions being released into the air we breathe. There can also be a problem if the tree is stored in a damp area from one Christmas to the next and it harbours mould spores. Many commercially produced trees are also treated with chemicals before sale, which can provoke a response in sensitive people.
It’s not just the tree that can trigger a reaction. Other potential threats for allergic responses are cut flowers, in particular lilies, which have a very strong odour and can cause allergic rhinitis, respiratory problems and often headaches. They look lovely in a bouquet but quite a number of people do react to them. In our attempts to make our homes feel more ‘Christmassy’, we can also overload the environment with chemical smells and pollutants – for example, from scented candles, pot pourri and wood burning stoves.
Cooking on a gas stove can also produce problems with what is known as indoor air pollution. Studies have shown that it can resemble the pollution levels found on a busy street.
And the changes in the food we eat can be harmful too – it can be a difficult time of year for those with peanut and wheat allergies, and also we tend to consume more pickled, jarred and bottled goods, as well as alcohol, which can be high in sulphites.
Our tendency to stay indoors, switch on central heating and keep windows closed all adds to the Christmas allergy mix – providing ideal breeding grounds for the dust mites and mould spores that can trigger annoying and potentially serious reactions.
There are also the gifts. Maxima says: “Often people give smelly toiletries for Christmas. These can also be a potential trigger to people with respiratory problems or chemical sensitivity, partly from the synthetic fragrances but also from the array of harsh chemicals they contain including sodium lauryl sulphate, alcohol and parabens. Issues can also arise from soft or cuddly toys given to children. Obviously people’s intentions are good, but I would advise caution for anyone who thinks they may be allergic or sensitive.”
Written and supplied by The Healthy House