If you have allergies, check this holiday list twice

allergySeasons greetings. And gesundheit.

Christmas greenery, holiday flowers and yuletide fires can inflame allergies, causing itchy eyes, runny noses and skin rashes, experts warn. No wonder Rudolph's nose was red.

Most holiday allergies are minor, but for anyone with asthma and other lung conditions, they can cause serious breathing problems, says allergist James Seltzer, chair of the Indoor Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

In a study presented at the group's annual meeting last month, allergist Michael Alexander of Niagara Falls, Ontario, said air samples taken near Christmas trees in patients' homes showed "a tremendous amount" of mold being shed from the tree, especially when people handled the branches.

"When they were removing the decorations, there was something like a 20-times increase in the mold spores, and a 40-times increase in the pollen," he says. Researchers found grass and ragweed pollen that had settled in the tree branches, as well as pine pollen.

Resins or sap on tree trunks and branches also can cause skin irritation, he says, so "when handling trees or wreaths, wear gloves and long sleeves."

Even artificial trees can pose problems because they accumulate molds and dust in storage that can become airborne during setup and tree-trimming, Alexander says.

Other concerns:

Strong scents. Perfumed candles may produce soot and hydrocarbons that can irritate eyes and nose, and the strong fragrances of potpourri and room sprays may cause runny noses and itchy eyes, say allergists. Allergist James Sublett of the University of Louisville says plug-in room fresheners emit fine particulates that can be very irritating to people who have asthma, and some produce ozone, a respiratory toxin.

The bottom line is that "minor air pollutants can have an effect on people who are unusually susceptible," says Dennis Ownby of the Medical College of Georgia. His advice, especially for families of children with asthma, is to "take it easy on all the smelly things that become part of the holiday season. You don't have to eliminate all of them, but you have to be reasonably cautious."

Fireplaces and wood stoves. Particulates and gaseous compounds, which are given off by the incomplete combustion of wood, can be very irritating to lungs and respiratory passages, Seltzer says. "It's a good idea not to have a fire if you have a child with asthma." It's a problem for adults, too. At least one study has shown that adults with asthma had increased wheezing a day after having a fire in the fireplace.

Food allergies. The variety of food available during the holidays could pose a risk of accidental exposure to people who are allergic to nuts or other foods, Ownby says. "Particularly at holiday gatherings when there are lots of different foods around, it's easy for a child to pick up something they don't know has nuts."

Flowers. Allergies to poinsettias are very rare, says Ownby, who has seen only one case in 30 years, but the plants share some allergens with natural rubber latex, so it's possible people with latex allergy may have a reaction to poinsettias.

source USA Today