Along with shorter days and cooler temps, autumn heralds the start of the end-of-the year holiday season. This can mean a flurry of family gatherings, special foods and events, and for people with eczema, an upswing in contact with potential allergy triggers.
Forewarned is forearmed, goes the old saying. In that spirit, here’s a look at some pitfalls you or your child with eczema may run into as you move — and sometimes sprint — through the busy holiday season.
Trigger: Costumes, candy and makeup
Candy can cause problems for kids with food allergies. Costumes and cosmetics can also provoke reactions.
What happens: Many common face paint and cosmetic ingredients, such as methylisothiazolinone, are known skin allergens. There is no federal standard for the label “hypoallergenic,” and these products can’t guarantee a pass on rashes. Costumes made from synthetic materials can also raise a rash, as can that nickel-containing princess crown or superhero belt.
What to do: Skipping makeup is safest; if you use it, do a patch test. Make or shop for natural fabric costumes (try Etsy) or wear a safe fabric between costume and skin. Choose plastic accessories or make your own.
You might also consider: Getting a stash of safe candies and swapping them for problem items post trick-or-treat or joining the Teal Pumpkin Project. A teal-painted pumpkin by the door means treats are non-food.
More people travel for Thanksgiving than any other holiday, according to the American Automobile Association.
What happens: Preparing for long car trips, wrangling luggage and kids at the airport, and simply getting ready to go can leave you stressed out and prone to flares (See “Easing stress.”) Bedding washed in allergen-laden detergent, unfamiliar personal care products, dusty guest bedrooms, and pet dander are also common pitfalls.
What to do: Moisturize well in the days before you leave. Carefully pack medications, creams, and other care products, and bring your bedding and towels.
You might also consider: Staying at a hotel, giving you more control. Some offer allergy-friendly and/or carpet-free rooms.
Trigger: Food allergies
Most holidays include this hazard, and Hanukkah, with its emphasis on dairy and gluten-containing foods, is no exception.
What happens: From latkes with sour cream to sufganiyot (deep-fried donuts filled with jelly) to cheese blintzes, traditional Hanukkah dinners are heavy on dishes that can trigger allergic reactions.
What to do: Hosting dinner yourself is safest. If you’re a guest, call your host as soon as you get the invite to explain potential food allergies and cross-contact issues and precautions.
You might also consider: Preparing allergy-safe versions of your favorite traditional dishes or creating a new, allergy-friendly food custom. Include an ingredient card to assist guests with food allergies and to raise awareness.
Trigger: Christmas decor
Both the tree itself and decorating it can leave you itching.
What happens: Natural Christmas trees and greenery can cause contact allergies, thanks to an oil (terpene) found in sap, as well as reactions from inhaling mold spores and pollen. Storing artificial trees and ornaments in the attic often leaves them layered in reaction-triggering dust.
What to do: Hose down real trees and allow to dry fully before setting up. Clean ornaments, dust/vacuum artificial trees, and wear gloves and long sleeves while decorating.
You might also consider: Skipping poinsettias if latex allergies are an issue. The plants are related to the rubber tree family and can cause reactions in people with latex allergies.
Trigger: Scented candles
Lighting the kinara is a centerpiece of Kwanzaa, and some people use scented versions of the traditional red, green, and black candles.
What happens: Fragrance and other compounds in candles, air freshener, and potpourri and other home fragrance products make allergens airborne and leave susceptible people vulnerable to allergic and asthmatic reactions.
What to do: Choose unscented candles and ask hosts well before an event to consider removing products that scent the air.
You also might consider: Gifting fragrance-free candles —along with a card explaining why they’re a good choice.
Champagne and other alcoholic beverages often take center stage at New Year’s celebrations.
What happens: Preservatives and other ingredients in alcoholic beverages can cause stuffiness, headache and skin flushing in people with an intolerance. Alcohol may also interact with a component involved in allergic response and worsen reactions in those who aren’t alcohol intolerant.
What to do: Choose non-alcoholic offerings — if you know what’s in them. “Mocktails” are becoming more creative as the trend catches on.
You also might consider: Bringing your host the components for your favorite allergy-friendly mocktail to offer at their bar.