The 12 Allergies of Christmas

Think you’ve got enough to worry about in the run-up to Christmas? Spare a thought for people with allergies, for whom the festive season is fraught with danger. But, with a little consideration, you could prevent an allergic reaction, and even a trip to Accident & Emergency.

1 Real Christmas trees can contain moulds, a health hazard for those allergic to them, while the sap can trigger skin reactions. The mould content is highest when the tree is cut some time in advance and kept in a moist atmosphere. After buying the tree, it helps to store it in a dry place like a garage, and then shake it before bringing it indoors. Note that, once the tree is inside, mould spores can grow within two weeks. For those with symptoms, fake trees may be the answer.

2 Mistletoe allergy is uncommon, though it can cause skin reactions in some people. The main danger comes from the kiss. Proteins can linger in saliva for several hours, so a snog can deliver a sizeable dose of nuts or whatever else the person last ate. Those with food allergies may find their luck running out, just when they thought it had come in.

FreeImages.com/Stephanie Berhaeuser

3 Problems with latex are on the rise. About 4% of the general population is allergic to latex (the natural type from rubber), while nearly 10% of healthcare workers are. The incidence is growing because gloves are more often used for procedures which were done with bare hands in the bad old days. What has this to do with Christmas? Balloons and most condoms contain latex, and both may feature at the seasonal office party. 

4 Alcoholic drinks can lead to allergic reactions. There are often nuts in speciality beers, and there’s obviously dairy in Irish cream liqueurs. There’s even almond oil in Bombay Sapphire gin, as the Anaphylaxis Campaign reminded me. Besides, alcohol can lower your guard and make you blasé about risk.  And large amounts of alcohol tend to worsen allergic reactions.  

5 Presents that smell nice, like bath oil, soaps, hand creams, and reed diffusers, may contain almond oil or other essential oils. These cause no trouble for most people, but they can trigger nasty reactions in those with allergies to the ingredients.

6 Festive candles are, again, mostly harmless, unless you’re careless enough to start a fire. But, for those with allergies, the soya present in some posh candles can be an issue. Candles may also contain pine, a potential problem for anyone allergic to pine resin.

7 The poinsettia plant is related to euphorbia (spurge). It’s not often an allergen, but it can be, especially for those with latex allergy. Symptoms include rash, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It’s wise not to have a poinsettia if you’re latex allergic.

FreeImages.com/D Fleiderer

8 Chocolate can contain dried fruits and nuts (which you may not spot if it’s in the form of a paste). It usually also contains soya lecithin. If you have a food allergy, check the label before indulging – if, that is, the label is anywhere to be seen. This can be a problem when chocolate treats are unwrapped and passed around on a plate at Christmas.

9 Sulphites are food preservatives commonly used in sausages, as well as in many pickled foods, dressings, and soft drinks. Some people react to sulphites with asthma symptoms or an urticarial rash. In most cases, the reaction is a sensitivity rather than an allergy.  But occasionally there is a true allergy, with a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.

10 Fancy turkey stuffing can contain a multitude of allergens, including pecans and hazelnuts. One of the most widespread ingredients is celery. Although allergy to celery seems fairly rare in the UK, when it does occur, the reaction can be severe and may lead to anaphylactic shock.- see more about anaphylaxis.

11 The traditional Christmas pudding is full of nuts, an obvious problem to those with an allergy to them. But it is possible to source tasty nut-free versions in most large shops.

12 Christmas cake, as a rule, contains nuts. It’s easy enough to study the ingredients when out shopping and choose a product that doesn’t contain a particular nut or fruit (though it’s impossible to do without almonds if you want stollen or any other cake with a marzipan layer).  If you have a nut allergy, visiting friends and family can still be risky, though. It’s not always enough to avoid a food that’s a trigger. There may be cross-contamination, which can be critical with severe allergy.

This list of Yuletide allergies is obviously far from inclusive, so please take care and have a happy, healthy Christmas.

I’ll be back in the New Year. Meanwhile, for more information about allergies, including anaphylaxis, visit the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

You may also enjoy The dreaded Christmas newsletter.

Advertisements

An Englishman in New Jersey

It always irks me to hear Newark’s Liberty Airport described as being one of New York’s airports.  New Jersey, as any fule kno, is not New York. True, it’s only a short train ride to Penn Station. But it’s equally just a short ride to the heart of the most underrated state of them all.

Rand McNally map NJ

The chemical stench that hits you on the New Jersey Turnpike is enough to put most people off, but I know different. It’s my favourite state.

Admittedly the favourite bit doesn’t begin till some hours after landing. It also relies on my taking the right route onto the NJ Turnpike first time, not ending up in Elizabeth, NJ, where I always have to do a U-turn at the Gulf station. The petrol pump attendant – there’s no self-service gas in the state – is used to me now. “You again, eh? Have a nice day.” But after that you need to step on it. If you hang around in Elizabeth, you get offered crack.

A Christmas pudding can delay all this, as it did when I last brought one in my carry-on. Americans don’t have Christmas puddings, so I was bringing one over for a friend. On arrival, the screening contraption did not like it one bit. Two Homeland Security officers approached. “Ma’am, is this your bag?” They gave me a stern look. Actually I don’t know if they do other kinds of look.

“Yes, it is. And I know what the problem is,” I said, reaching towards the bag to extract the pudding.

“Step away from the bag!” one of them bellowed.

Sainsbury's Christmas pudding

“But it’s only a Christmas pudding.” Idiotically I added, “Here, I’ll show you.”

“Ma’am! Step away from the bag!  I’m not sayin’ it again.”  Her partner reached for his holster.

I got the message. They didn’t want me to blow up the pudding. And I didn’t want a bullet through my chest.

As carefully if it were a landmine, the two officers extracted it from my carry-on.

I finally got a chance to explain.

They were sceptical. “You mean you all eat this in England?”

I confirmed that we did, every Christmas day, though we generally got it out of the plastic first. 

They said it was mighty heavy, ma’am. Yes, I agreed. Indigestion was usual, especially when you’ve already stuffed yourself on the main course.

They let both pudding and me through, all the while shaking their heads and averring that you learn something new every day, ma’am. Ain’t that the truth?

wedding day 2013

This year I brought no pudding, but I did take my husband.  It was high summer, and the flight was full of Camp America kids, except for the seat the other side of us, where there was a walrus, snoring and taking up two arm rests.  

Welcome to the United States of America, they say at Liberty Airport. We had ample time to savour the warmth of the welcome during an hour and a half waiting in line to exhibit our passports, in a hall without air con.  

What did my very English husband find most disorientating in New Jersey?

1 The language.  As half my family is American, conversations with them were a challenge.  Americans do use many of the same words as the English. But then they do and pronounce them all wrong and use them to mean different things. ‘Chips,’ for instance, are not fries. They are crisps. And ‘being sick’ only means you’re ill.

Most puzzling of all, ‘breaking up’ has nothing to do with the end of term. This may explain why, when OH asked if they’d broken up, my 15-year old niece flushed bright red, and said Mommy didn’t even know she had a boyfriend.

2 Then there was the food.

He’d never had grits before. They tasted, he discovered, a bit like semolina.

Smuckers strawberry jam

You can use Smuckers preserve or maple syrup to make ‘em sweet.

Old Barney's Hot Sauce

Or you can smother them in Old Barney’s Hot Sauce if you like your tongue on fire.

A short stack is just two pancakes. But they make them pretty big at Mustache Bill’s Diner.

Mustache Bill's diner, Barnegat Light

Either you take them back in a box if you don’t eat them all. Or, if you do, you go back in a box.

So taken were we with Mustache Bill’s that we queued up (translation: waited in line) for up to an hour to get in. And the OH was desperate to emulate him.

seaweed to look like a moustache

3 The beaches, contrary to popular belief, are not covered in medical waste.

Though there may be sharks. Nobody’s been killed by a shark here for nearly 100 years, but they’re around, or rather one in particular is.

FreeImages.com/ChatrinORockerz

Mary Lee is a thoroughly modern shark with her own Twitter account @MaryLeeShark and over 87k followers. We think she’s pregnant. Hard to tell as she’s a tubby lady, weighing in at over 4 tons, hence, people say, a real Jersey girl. She’s been tagged by OCEARCH so we know she gets around. The East Coast is Mary Lee’s usual hunting ground, though she has been as far afield as Bermuda. Well, a gal needs a decent holiday now and again. 

Did we encounter any sharks? Did The Mob get us by the canal? And was my husband brave enough to uncork the hot sauce? Find out in my next post.

Easy tweet: NJ is underrated, as @D‘s partner discovers An Englishman in New Jersey