Helping patients (and yourself) this holiday season

December 17, 2018

Believe it or not, the holidays are here already! While many of you are no doubt looking forward to time out of the office to relax, the holidays can be a challenging time for our patients and us.

From lurking food allergens at the dinner table to festive decorations, it can be difficult for our patients to enjoy this time if they are sneezing and wheezing (or worse). Here are some last-minute holiday tips to share on social media, in patient newsletters, your website or in-person:

  • Taste cautiously. Food allergens can show up in the strangest places – soy sauce in mock caviar, peanuts in pie crust, shellfish in stuffing – so be cautious about piling your plate during holiday feasting. Even something as innocuous as turkey can be a landmine – allergens in stuffing can be absorbed into the meat. It’s best to cook any poultry sans-stuffing and try to stick to natural birds, which only have meat and water (self-basting may have soy, wheat or dairy).
  • Give sneeze-free gifts. It can be hard for relatives and friends to find the perfect present for people with allergies. Nickel in jewelry can cause contact dermatitis, candy can include nuts or other allergens, and perfumes and other scented body products can cause some people to break out in a rash. Some ideas are things like books (especially food allergy cookbooks), fun gadgets and knick-knacks (phone cases or accessories, cute home d├ęcor items, etc.), and toys made from wood, metal or plastic (like Legos, blocks, dolls/action figures). You can even find cool epinephrine auto-injector cases in fun prints (try Allergy Apparel), or unique, beautiful medical alert bracelets (try Creative Medical I.D. or Lauren’s Hope).
  • Think through the decor. There’s nothing quite as cozy as a festive home but be aware that decorations can be sources of hidden allergens. If decorations aren’t stored in air-tight containers, they may harbor dust mites. Some people may also react to Christmas trees – both from the terpene in the sap or from mold in the tree. It is safer to use an artificial tree if that is the case. And poinsettias may be problematic for people with latex allergy, since the plant is part of the rubber tree family.
  • Avoid air freshener. Ask your holiday hosts to refrain from spritzing air freshener before you arrive – one-third of people with asthma report health problems from the volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Studies show that VOC exposure even below accepted levels can increase the risk of asthma in children. Some people may also have an allergic reaction to scented candles – so it’s better to be around unscented ones or LED candles that create the same cozy effect without an open flame.

As for allergists, it’s important to use this time to unwind, relax and take care of ourselves for a change. Aside from recharging with family and friends, what can you do to focus on your well-being? I’ve rounded up some tips:

  • Be satisfied with “good enough.” Often allergists are ‘type A’ personalities and may want holidays to be bigger, better – and perfect. This year, keep it simple and look for the satisfaction in time well-spent with loved ones. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if an event or task sounds like too much to take on. Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life and don’t stress over the small stuff.
  • Give experiences, not packages. If you find yourself overwhelmed with your holiday shopping list, consider treating loved ones to a theater performance (even local, community ones are great!) or dinner out together. Although you won’t have a fancy present with a bow, you’ll have this special experience together you can remember forever.
  • Remember to have fun. While you take part in your favorite family traditions, take a deep breath and practice some mindfulness. Enjoy the moment and give yourself permission to forget about your to-do list waiting for you back at the office. And all the better if you can bust out your belly laugh – it’s a great way to reduce stress hormones.
  • Take a break. Sometimes things can get busy during the holidays, so find a slow, relaxing activity to calm and center yourself. Take a nighttime walk and check out holiday lights in your neighborhood. Find ten minutes to meditate. Read a book – for leisure, not research – for a half hour.
  • Think positive. The holidays are not always easy for everyone. If this is the case for you, try to avoid focusing on the things that get you down. Keep your mind on the positive and make sure you take time to do things you find life-giving and energizing.

Meanwhile, the College is already deep into planning the 2019 Annual Scientific Meeting. We’ve already got some great sessions planned with speakers from around the globe. Make sure you mark Nov. 7-11 on your calendar and plan now to join us in Houston! The International Food Allergy Symposium will be returning, and we’ve never had one like this before. We’ve lined up top thought leaders from around the world to focus on prevention, prevalence, the next evolution in treatment and issues on the horizon. And I know you won’t want to miss the Texas Pro/Con Thunderdome – three back-to-back pro/con debates on key topics from allergy experts during happy hour.

There is still plenty to plan, and we want your ideas. The College is accepting proposal submissions through Jan. 7. All you need is a session title, description, at least one learning objective, a recommended speaker (or speakers), contact info and your disclosure info. You can pick a session format and track designation as well – the list can be found on the submission site. If you find yourself looking for something to do over the holiday break, put a proposal together and send it in! 

I sincerely wish you and your families all the best this holiday season, as well as a healthier, happier 2019. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being part of the College and for everything you do for your patients every single day.

Todd Mahr, MD, FACAAI, College president