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Season's Sneezings Are Upon Us

The trimmings of Christmas can trigger many allergens

SUNDAY, Dec. 22, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- 'Tis the season to be . . . sneezing?

Many of the wonderful touches associated with the Christmas holidays can actually be like lumps of coal for allergy sufferers.

Dusty tree ornaments brought down from the attic, musty firewood brought in from outside and that cute little Christmas puppy are all potential allergy triggers for people who are susceptible.

"Most people understand spring allergies and the symptoms that go along with them," says Dr. Yvonne Johnson, director of medical affairs for Novartis Ophthalmics. "But people forget about internal environments and the potential allergens there. A lot of people don't associate pet dander with their allergies, and even if they realize it, they usually don't give up their pet."

While these allergens don't affect most people, for the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies, they can mean a series of reactions -- from itchy, watery eyes to sneezing and a runny nose.

To deal with these symptoms, which are the body's way of ridding itself of the allergens, many allergy sufferers take systemic medications, including Claritin and Zyrtec -- made famous through national television advertising campaigns. According to Johnson, however, while these medications can be effective, they don't always address specific problems with the eyes.

"If you want something to act fast for itchy eyes, you have to apply it right to the eye," says Johnson, whose company manufactures Zaditor, an ophthalmic solution that is said to relieve the itch in three minutes and last up to 12 hours. "If you take these things in combination, you'll get the greatest relief from allergies."

Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, a private treatment center in New York City, agrees that dust and mold from artificial trees and ornaments can trigger allergic reactions and should be dusted and/or washed when brought out of storage. Terpene, a chemical found in the sap from natural Christmas trees, can cause eye irritation as well, and those who suffer from this should consider an artificial tree, he says.

Bassett also emphasizes the potential effects of pet dander for the 100 million American households where a cat or a dog is present. People are indoors more in the winter and can have almost constant exposure to pet dander on a daily basis.

"It's not like going to the park in the spring and being exposed to pollen. This is almost constant, he says.

Other things to be careful of are Christmas treats like eggnog and pastries and candies with nuts. Eggs and nuts can cause severe -- even deadly -- reactions in some allergy sufferers.

For those suffering from allergy symptoms, Bassett advocates an individual assessment to determine whether the problem is coming from indoors or outdoors or both. He agrees with Johnson that for some allergy sufferers, a systemic medication is not enough. Those with more severe symptoms may need multiple regimens, including eye drops, a nasal spray and an antihistamine.

"Those who suffer from persistent allergy type symptoms that don't do well with over-the-counter medications may need more," he said. "It's important to identify what types of allergies you have and to treat them."

What To Do

For additional insight on allergies, check out this site or this one.

SOURCES: Yvonne Johnson, M.D., director, medical affairs, Novartis Ophthalmics, Dulurh, Ga.; Clifford Bassett, M.D., medical director, Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, New York City
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