Thanksgiving is about family, food and travel. And for the millions of Americans with allergies or asthma, it’s about navigating a minefield of triggers, from the pumpkin pie to the dusty guest bedroom.
“A number of holiday-related triggers can make people sneeze, wheeze or, in the case of food allergies, have a more serious reaction,” said allergist Dr. Myron Zitt, past president of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “But by planning ahead, the day can go smoothly for people with allergies or asthma.”
The ACAAI and its allergist members have several suggestions to help those with food allergies, environmental allergies or asthma avoid unnecessary suffering.
For guests with food allergies, the holiday feast often includes common food allergens such as wheat, soy, dairy and nuts:
• Talking turkey - The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal may seem safe, but self-basting turkeys can include soy, wheat and dairy. A natural turkey is your best bet since by law it must contain nothing but turkey and water. Also, be sure the stuffing is made from wheat-free bread.
Food has always been the focal point of Thanksgiving (some might even say that it is the Super Bowl of eating) and it is probably safe to say that it always will be. That is why Thanksgiving with food allergies can be such a challenge. So many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods contain common food allergens.
While a traditional Thanksgiving meal may be chock full of common food allergens, you might be surprised to know that it doesn’t have to be.
• On the side - For allergen-free mashed potatoes, swap the milk and butter for chicken broth and margarine. Use corn starch to thicken the gravy instead of wheat flour. And forget about topping the green bean casserole with slivered almonds.
• Now for dessert - Even though pumpkin allergies are rare, America’s favorite Thanksgiving pie can cause problems. Be sure to offer alternative desserts. To be on the safe side, suggest guests with serious food allergies bring their own sweet treats.
Watch out for environmental triggers, as well:
• Wash-up woes - Aunt Sophie’s fancy guest soap may contain fragrance that can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Use the regular soap or bring your own.
• Problem pets - If you’re allergic to furry animals, asking grandma to lock her cat in the basement during your visit will do little if anything to ease your misery. That’s because pet dander gets everywhere and is difficult to eradicate. However, you can help yourself by taking symptom-easing medications prior to your visit. An allergist can recommend treatments for your pet allergy, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants or appropriate asthma medications.
WHAT ARE SOME SYMPTOMS OF FOOD ALLERGIES?
The biggest thing is - with severe allergic reactions - your throat will start to close. That’s deadly, and you can have major problems. With mild allergic reactions, there’s often itching and hives.
HOE MUCH MORE STRESSFUL ARE THE HOLIDAYS ANT THEIR INCREASED FOCUS ON FOOD?
The holidays aren’t stressful for me anymore - I’m Crazy Allergy Mama now. Everyone gets a pat-down and I go through all the dishes and I’m good now. My goal is to communicate. Even using utensils being used on foods that you’re allergic to can be as bad as eating the food. People don’t realize it. It can even be airborne element. There are a lot of ways to be exposed. It’s about communication and having conversations ahead of time. People don’t even know sometimes - they might have bought something at a store and don’t know what the ingredient are. This is no joke - nothing to play with.
TIPS FOR OTHER FAMILIES
- Let the host know about your allergy in advance and offer to bring a dish you’ve prepared.
- Ask the host for the recipes and/or review packaging from ingredients used to prepare dinner.
- Always wash your hands before eating and be careful of hand soaps or lotions that may contain oils and shells of nuts.
- Communicate with friends and family about you or your child’s allergy and what to do in an emergency.
- Find out if an EpiPen should be part of your or your child’s emergency treatment plan.
• No rest for the allergic - Dust mites are one of the most common allergy and asthma triggers. To prevent your allergic guests from sneezing all night long, thoroughly dust the extra bedroom and wash bedding in hot water. If you have allergies and are doing the visiting, pack your own pillow or allergen-proof pillow cover.
Think you may have allergies or asthma, but aren’t sure of the cause? An allergist may suggest allergy testing to determine the trigger and help find relief.
Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI)