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7 Life-Saving Holiday Rules for People with Allergies

The holidays can be tricky for allergy sufferers. Here are allergists' top tips to keep you spirited and safe this season.


Cook for yourself

There are a lot of things you can control in life, but the holiday party menu usually isn’t one of them. And even your well-meaning grandmother, who knows about your allergies, might accidentally poison the potatoes with globs of cream and butter. What you can do is bring your own allergen-friendly dish to share or host your own holiday party. “This gives you control of what goes into your food,” says Sarah Ryan, MS, RDN, LD. Find out the foods that are the most common culprits of food allergies.


Ask about recipe ingredients ahead of time

If you’re heading off to family potlucks and dinner parties this holiday season, it might be wise to ask about ingredients ahead of time. Sure, you may not be able to ask about every dish at the party, but with a better idea of what you can or cannot eat, you can formulate a solid plan for yourself. Hoff notes, “I have many friends and family members with unique food allergies that hate to ‘be a bother,’ but should politeness really trump self-preservation? Ask, and if the answer is ‘yes, tons of tree nuts,’ you will know to pack some food for yourself.” Whether you’re at a restaurant or at your neighbor’s home, it’s totally appropriate to ask what’s in the food, whether from a list of ingredients or a recipe card.


Become a detective

You already know you can’t eat milk, but did you know you might also have an issue with shortbread and salad dressing, two common dairy allergy culprits? “Researching your allergen will help you identify common, but unusual, foods that contain your allergen,” says Caitlin Hoff, health and safety investigator at You’ll also want to learn what other ingredients your allergen might hide under, for example, “natural flavoring” may contain milk. Don’t ignore these signs you might be lactose intolerant.


Beware of cross-contamination

Unfortunately, cross-contamination at holiday parties happens all too often; all it takes is a dish scooped with the wrong spatula, and anaphylactic shock could occur. Although it may make you feel overly meticulous, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, culinary nutritionist and special diets expert, says, “Holiday dinners are often served family style, and it is unnerving trying to figure out whether utensils have been shared between dishes, so ask to serve yourself first.” Above all, keep everything clean. Be sure to wash your hands and thoroughly sanitize food surfaces to avert a holiday disaster. (These allergies are on the rise.)

DairyEvgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock

ALWAYS keep your EpiPen on you

Christmas is for family, friends, and EpiPens. “If your allergy is severe enough to cause trouble breathing, hives or swelling, tightness of the throat, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, or nausea, consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector with you for emergency situations,” says Hoff.

Pine-treeOlga Dubravina/Shutterstock

Steer clear of Christmas trees

A Christmas tree is essentially a decorative allergen; it carries pollen and emits fragrances that some people may be hypersensitive to. According to Bradley Chipps, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), you should always take the time to rinse off your tree before bringing it into your home if you have allergies, because live trees may have pollen or mold spores on them and the sap can cause a skin allergy. Fake trees, too, need to be dusted and cleaned of any mold. Find out the secrets your Christmas tree would like you to know.


Button up your overcoat

You don’t have to stay sidelined during sledding, skating, and other outdoor fun, but there are precautions you have to take. “If you have asthma, very cold, dry air might trigger your symptoms,” shares Dr. Chipps. “If you’re spending time outside, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or face mask—especially if you’ll be exercising.” Drastic weather fluctuations can also trigger allergic reactions, so try to keep the going-in-and-out to a minimum. (Here’s how to trick yourself into feeling warm this winter.)

Hana Hong
Hana Hong is a journalist/storyteller whose writing has appeared in many publications and websites, including Reader's Digest, InStyle, CollegeFashionista, Her Campus, and The Fashion Network, among others. She hails from the midwest, where she graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in News-Editorial Journalism, but has a passion for the East Coast. Visit her website: Hana Hong.

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