December 8th, 2011
10:55 AM ET
Jack Frost isn't the only thing nipping at your nose this holiday season.
Although the allergy season has its peaks in spring and fall, the sights and smells of the holiday season can also be one big allergy Grinch. From Christmas trees to chestnuts, and all the dusty decorations that were kept in storage the other 11 months of the year, Yuletide cheer can leave many allergy-sensitive people looking like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
One such sufferer, Jessica Aguiar, says she's been allergic to pine trees since she was a child, so she's unable to purchase a "real" tree to display her holiday cheer.
Her symptoms include watery eyes, sneezing and - if she actually touches a tree - a skin rash. "Not the Christmas decorations I'd like to wear," she jokes.
"Unfortunately, it makes me dread holiday decorations coming out - and also forces me to get much of my shopping done well before the holidays are even here," she says. For example, her local grocery store of choice just stocked a display of potpourri near the freezer aisle so she has to choose another for the next couple of months.
Dr. Joseph Leija, a National Allergy Bureau-certified allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, has several suggestions for sufferers. Following these tips can help ensure a sneeze-free season.
Avoid trigger ingredients.
Leija warns many traditional holiday recipes - including peanut brittle or the signature chestnuts on an open fire - call for tree nuts, which is one of the most common (and severe) food allergies.
He also says citrus - oranges, lemons, clementines and even grapefruits that are popular ingredients this time of year - can trigger oral allergic reactions.
Watch for the symptoms
The ultimate problem is winter allergy symptoms can often be confused with the common cold but are just as serious (and irksome) as their other season equivalents. Plus, their effects are often intensified since families spend more time indoors during the colder months.
If you make a preparation list and check it twice, Dr. Leija says it's easy to keep your allergies on the "nice" list this year. If you're visiting friends or relatives make them aware of your needs ahead of time.
"Just as you would not drop in unexpectedly on someone, call ahead well in advance and politely share that a member of the family has allergies. Explain what the allergies are, to avoid being served peanut butter fudge if a nut allergy is present, or having Fido and Fluffy jump up in greeting," says Dr. Leija.
"No one wants to turn a pleasant holiday gathering into an ambulance visit to the home, or have to see someone cough and wheeze. Hosts will appreciate the heads up and the opportunity to plan in advance."
Avoid the real thing
As for the tree, opt for an artificial version: Dr. Leija urges allergy sufferers to use fake trees, plants, garland and the like to decorate the home without adding mold.
And if you miss the smell of "O Tannenbaum," many popular candle companies make pine-scented options - so long as your or any of your guests aren't allergic to synthetic fragrances as well.
Keep the humidifier on low
There's one final allergy attacker to watch out for in your home this holiday. Dr. Leija says that many people in the winter months use humidifiers and ultimately add too much moisture, which creates mold. To combat this, keep the humidity set to less than 50%.
Safely store for next year
And when the time comes to stow away all the merry embellishments for next year, store them - as well as your artificial tree - in large resealable plastic tubs to protect them from dust. That way next year you'll look forward to pulling them out of the attic, instead of dreading the start of the season.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.