This holiday season many people will gather around the fireplace with family and pets. Whether it’s to warm up after a chilly night of caroling or just to enjoy tasty food and company, plenty of memories will be made. However, many common holiday traditions can adversely affect your home’s indoor air quality, triggering asthma and allergy symptoms and taking some of the cheeriness out of your holiday.
Causes of Winter Allergies
Airborne particles and chemicals in your home can cause your allergies and asthma to flare up. Smoke from a roaring fireplace, Christmas trees, and artificial holiday scents are common culprits, but mold, dust mites, and pet dander can also be contributing factors.
The winter holidays are prime time to enjoy a warm indoor fire in your fireplace, but many people aren’t aware of some of the adverse effects an indoor fire can have on your health.
Smoke contains thousands of tiny particles that can be harmful when inhaled. Once inhaled, these tiny particles are easily absorbed into the body’s bloodstream and can be just as dangerous as cigarette smoke. Breathing even small amounts of wood smoke can potentially cause headaches, coughing, and eye irritation.
Burning a fire in your fireplace can impact your home’s indoor air quality, often lasting long after the holidays have come and gone. Wood smoke can worsen heart and lung conditions and has been linked to many serious health issues, including heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer. Dangerous particles from wood smoke contribute to 4 million premature deaths every year.
There’s nothing quite like the smell of a freshly cut tree to bring on the Christmas spirit. However, they can contribute to serious health issues for some holiday revelers.
After a Christmas tree is harvested, it is bundled and tightly packed with other trees for shipping to consumers. Before you purchase your tree, it may have been sitting moist conditions without sufficient air circulation for several weeks.
Since mold grows rapidly in moist conditions, Christmas trees during shipping is a prime place for mold to thrive. Then when your tree comes home, those mold spores begin to spread inside your house.
Christmas trees have been found to contain over 50 distinct species of mold, and that mold spreads rapidly. Mold spores can increase in concentration by as much as 600 percent in less than two weeks.
When some people are exposed to the mold spores multiplying in their new Christmas tree, it can trigger a serious allergic reaction. This is a common occurrence and is often called “Christmas Tree Syndrome”.
Symptoms of Christmas Tree Syndrome include:
• Runny nose
• Nasal congestion
• Itchy, watery eyes
• Dry or irritated skin
Christmas Tree Syndrome may be even worse for people who live in homes that already contain mold. If you live in an older home or a damper climate, your risk of developing these symptoms increases by 50 percent.
Artificial Holiday Scents
Aromas of pine, cinnamon, and apples can make your home feel more festive and inviting for the holidays, but most scented candles and air fresheners contain numerous chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Scented candles may smell pleasant, but they release VOCs and dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde as they burn. These substances can trigger allergies and asthma and even cause severe headaches when inhaled.
Chemical air fresheners also contain phthalates. Exposure to phthalates has been shown to increase the risk of developing liver, kidney, and reproductive conditions.
Scented candles and air fresheners also contribute to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). MCS is a chronic medical condition characterized by an elevated level of sensitivity to chemicals in cleaners and fragrances.
Symptoms of MCS include:
• Sore throat
• Eye irritation
• Difficulty breathing
While some people claim to be allergic to cats, birds, or other furry animals, it is actually animal dander that causes their allergy symptoms. Pet dander is full of tiny microscopic particles like dead skin cells, saliva, dust, and even urine. For some people, exposure to these particles triggers allergy and asthma symptoms, including a runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin irritation.
Even pets that are advertised as “non-allergenic” still produce lesser amounts of dander. Pet dander can stick to clothes and furniture, and settle into carpeting, and can cause symptoms long after the animal is gone.
Dust mites are tiny creatures that eat dead skin cells. They live in bedding, carpets, drapes, and other places that dust settles and collects.
It isn’t the dust mites themselves that trigger allergies and asthma. It is their droppings that cause symptoms in some people when inhaled, often immediately causing wheezing, sneezing, and itchy eyes.
Turning on your HVAC unit as the weather begins to drop can stir up and spread dust mites and their droppings that have settled in your vents. This is one reason allergies often flare as the outdoor temperatures get colder.
Preventing Holiday Allergies
There are several things you can do to help prevent wintertime allergy flare-ups, so you can keep your holidays merry and full of cheer.
1. Skip the fireplace. To maintain good indoor air quality, it is best to not burn wood inside your home. However, if it is a treasured tradition you really don’t want to miss there are a few things you can do. First, make sure your firewood has been split and dried for at least 6 months. Also, if its possible, use a wood stove with a HEPA filter to minimize the amount of wood smoke that enters your home.
2. Improve ventilation. When weather permits, open your windows. You can also switch on ventilation fans. This is especially important when you are cooking or burning candles.
3. Keep pets outside. Keeping your pets outdoors is the best way to keep dander at bay. However, this isn’t always practical when it’s freezing outside. If you must bring your pets indoors, keep them out of your bedroom or other rooms you spend a lot of time in.
4. Use an air purifier. An air purifier works to reduce the number of airborne contaminants floating around your home. The Austin Air HealthMate HM400 is a smart choice for allergy sufferers because it works to stop allergens before they trigger a reaction. If you or someone you love suffers from MCS, The Austin Air HealthMate Plus HM450 can help you reduce the number of chemicals in your home, helping to alleviate your symptoms.
Asthma and allergies don’t have to steal your holiday spirit. Put these tips into practice and your home will be a warm and welcoming place this festive season.
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