General Health Monday December 12, 2011

How to avoid a red nose this Christmas

Learn how to distinguish allergic reactions from a cold and ways to prevent winter allergies from spoiling your Christmas.

Just like me, you are probably not likely to associate winter with allergies, but for many people wintertime seasonal festivities bring a whole new cluster of allergens to content with.

Distinguishing winter airborne allergies from colds

According to allergy experts, if you are experiencing an allergic reaction it can be easy to confuse it with a cold, which is why many people don’t take the necessary precautions to minimise their discomfort. There is, however, a way to distinguish between the two, and this lies mainly in the length of time you are ill.

A cold arrives and then tends to stay for five to seven days, whereas allergies can last for a longer time and are more intermittent, with moments or scenarios where the symptoms will be more amplified than others.

There are also subtle differences in the symptoms between colds and winter allergies. Winter allergies cause people to experience nasal secretions that are clear, whereas secretions produced as the result of a cold are likely to be discoloured. A cold has the additional ability to make your body feel aches and pain, whereas allergies make your eyes and throat itch.

Staying inside too much

The chilly winter weather makes staying inside much more appetising than braving the cold, which means that we spend most of our time staying indoors, moving from one indoor area to the next. This increases our exposure to various indoor allergens such as mould and dust mites which are also more prevalent because we air our houses less during winter time and humidity is much higher than it would normally be.

According to Allergy UK, you can minimise the risk of an allergic reaction from dust mites by dusting regularly with a damp cloth, washing bedding weekly at 60°C (which has been proven to kill dust mites), regularly steaming carpets and curtains and by using allergy-resistant barriers on mattresses and pillows.

Keeping humidity to less than 50% could help avoid mould flourishing in your home, while still keeping you comfortable. A hygrometer can help you keep an eye on your humidity, to avoid it reaching levels where it’s too high or low. Signs that humidity might be too high, apart from allergic reactions, are condensation on the windows and musty smells or wet stains on the ceiling or walls. There are various dehumidifying products that can be used in these cases, but if you think that you might have a serious mould infestation already, this is something that should be dealt with as a priority.

Artificial fragrances

In wintertime we may choose to use more indoor fragrances than usual to hide musty smells and create a homely Christmas atmosphere, or to mask food smells. Although many people may not realise, these fragrances also have the potential to be allergens.

Old Christmas decorations

Convention dictates that Christmas decorations are only allowed out once a year, which means that they have a long time to collect dust and dust mites. Dusting ornamental Christmas trees and decorations before you start decorating can be helpful in avoiding any allergic reactions, but you might also want to clean them again before you put them away, and then store them in air tight, sealable containers to avoid dust from settling in the first place.

Christmas trees

Allergies to pine trees or pollen is rare, but this can cause sufferers to experience rashes, itchy red eyes and a runny nose, or even something more serious depending on the severity of the allergy. In these cases it is probably best to use an artificial tree instead, though this may be less "Christmassy". If you are planning on paying a visit during this time to people with a real tree, ensure that you are prepared or notify them in advance if you have a severe allergy.

Eating out more

During the festive season we often end up going out much more than we normally would, which means that if you have food allergies, there is the potential for exposure to foods that you might be allergic to. You should therefore ensure that you notify your hosts of your allergy if you are visiting their house and that you are extra vigilant about what you are eating if you are visiting a restaurant. You may also want to carry the right medications with you when you go out.

Cocktails are high-risk beverages, not just because of their ability to induce social faux pas after one too many, but because of their magnitude of ingredients. This is especially true if you are allergic to citrus, so make sure that you ask the bar staff what is in your drink and notify them of your allergy.

Allergy tests

We are expanding the LabsDirect product portfolio soon and we are planning to provide laboratory testing for allergies as well. The new tests we will provide will enable to you to collect a sample at home and send it to our laboratory, where it can be tested to reveal food allergies, inhaled allergies or food intolerances.

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