Are Holiday Traditions Impacting Your Allergies?
Tips to Protect Your Home and Health This Season
As we dive into the holiday season—full of festive joy and get-togethers—consider keeping an eye on potential indoor air quality issues. During this time of year, it’s easy for a number of pollutants to pop up in our homes, often without us noticing.
This guide is like your holiday allergy detective, focusing on the many ways the air quality in your home can be impacted. From your holiday decorations and Christmas tree choices to airborne contaminates, combustion gases, dust, mold, and more, we'll point out how the air quality in your home can suffer and what you can do to prepare your residence for less “irritating” gatherings.
Dust mites, pet dander, mold, oh my! Winter allergies can be problematic during the holiday season, especially for out-of-town visitors who aren’t used to those hazards that may thrive in your home. Dander from cats, dogs, and other furry pets triggers allergic reactions, including coughing, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, skin rashes, trouble breathing, and more. Pet dander easily sticks to clothing, furniture, and carpets for long periods of time, which can cause continuing symptoms long after exposure.
In addition, dust mites, which live on furniture, carpets, curtains, and bedding, don’t typically cause allergies when alive. However, their droppings and dead bodies can trigger similar symptoms as those outlined above.
Mold can also play a role in those pesky allergies hiding in holiday decorations or Christmas trees, or even via moisture buildup from reduced ventilation, which traps condensation and provides the ideal breeding ground for mold growth.
So, what can you do to clean and prepare your home? Before guests arrive, we highly recommend cleaning your home with a HEPA filter vacuum if possible. We also recommend cleaning your mattresses, pillows, and bedding, and vacuuming upholstered furniture. And, if you have an air purifier, make sure you replace the filter. Regarding mold, if you see visible mold growth or notice a musty smell, it may be wise to get in touch with a professional assessment company like Mold Inspection Sciences Texas for a comprehensive assessment that will help determine where the moisture intrusion is and how extensive the potential mold issue may be.
Unfortunately, seasonal illnesses can be easily spread among holiday gatherings. Some of the most common infections that tend to spread include the flu, your common cold, and COVID-19. Hopefully, your friends and loved ones will stay home if they aren’t feeling well and partake in frequent handwashing and other preventative measures you deem necessary. But in terms of home preparation, ventilation is vital. If you can’t crack a window, investing in air purifiers, specifically a HEPA air purifier, can help improve air quality.
Nothing quite sets the holiday mood like the warm glow of a wood-burning fireplace. However, this cozy tradition can significantly impact indoor air quality. Smoke from wood-burning fireplaces can introduce fine particulate matter and other harmful gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane, to name a few. A study from the American Lung Association found that health-related threats linked to wood burning include coughing and wheezing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, and more.
Scheduling regular maintenance for your fireplace and chimney can help ensure they are clean and functioning correctly. You’ll also want to avoid burning wet or treated wood, which can release more pollutants. If you are using a fireplace, use it sparingly and have an air purifier running. Another option would be to opt for cleaner alternatives like electric fireplaces or a fireplace video if you don’t need a wood-burning fireplace or stove to heat your entire property.
Wondering how weather, climate, and location impact mold growth?
Download a copy of our infographic for insights and stats about how these factors impact allergies, indoor air quality, and more.
The holidays are synonymous with delicious food and elaborate feasts. However, increased cooking activities can release harmful particles, gases, and odors into the air. Smoke from frying, emissions from gas stoves, and fumes from cleaning products can contribute to poor indoor air quality.
Ensure proper ventilation while cooking by using exhaust fans or opening windows to allow fresh air to circulate. If you’re grilling, you’ll want to avoid petroleum-based lighter fluids and self-lighting charcoal. Clean your kitchen regularly to minimize grease and food buildup. In terms of cleaning products, consider using natural cleaning products or making your own cleaning solutions using ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils to reduce the release of harmful chemicals.
While beautiful, Christmas and other holiday decorations can introduce potential irritants and allergens into our homes. Dust, mold, and additional indoor pollutants can gather on ornaments, artificial trees, wreaths, and holiday trinkets that have been stored all year. When these decorations are unpacked and put up, they can release these pollutants into the air, triggering allergies or worsening existing respiratory conditions.
Scented candles, typically made of paraffin wax, as well as synthetic fragrances and dyes are other culprits. Paraffin, unfortunately, is a byproduct of petroleum that releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particles into the air even when the candle is not lit.
Circling back to mold, tightly bound fresh Christmas trees can hold on to excess moisture and become a breeding ground for mold growth. When brought indoors, the mold spores can spread and continue spreading as long as the tree remains in your home. This can result in an allergic reaction known as “Christmas tree syndrome.” A recent report shared that Christmas trees can host over 50 types of mold, and the spores can increase in concentration by over 600% in less than 14 days.
Our recommendations for your holiday décor include gently wiping down all decorations to remove any dust or dirt that may have accumulated during storage. Regarding your holiday scents, some alternatives include simmering cinnamon sticks, cloves, citrus fruits, and other spices in a pot of water on your stove or utilizing natural essential oils. If you plan to move forward with a fresh tree, it may be smarter to put it up a little later in the season and keep it in a cooler area of the home to prevent mold growth. And as we’ve mentioned previously, an air purifier can help mitigate some allergy impact.
Car Pollution and Foot Traffic
The holidays often mean an increase in the number of visitors to our homes. More people mean more potential sources of indoor air pollutants. Guests can unknowingly bring in allergens, dirt, and outdoor pollutants on their shoes and clothing, so encourage guests to remove their shoes before entering the house to minimize outdoor contaminants. You’ll also want to vacuum and clean the house regularly, paying particular attention to entryways.
Car pollution can also impact the air quality inside our homes. Those living in urban areas often experience higher levels of pollutants, and the holidays can bring increased traffic and congestion. A word to the wise: Don’t leave your car running while you’re saying goodbyes or packing up to leave, as this can also produce extra pollutants that can find their way into a home. And if you live in a high-traffic area, consider using air purifiers with activated carbon filters to help reduce outdoor pollutants that make their way indoors. One final tip: Regularly check and maintain your car’s emissions system to minimize its impact on air quality.
At Mold Inspection Sciences Texas, our testing capabilities go beyond that of mold. If you’re struggling with allergies, our Allergen Testing services will help provide you with a clear understanding of what levels of allergens are present by utilizing the MARIA (Multiplex Array for Indoor Allergens), also known as the Allergen Screen. Once we have a clear idea of what’s happening at your property, we can help provide recommendations for next steps of how to reduce the levels of the allergens present. We also offer Environmental Monitoring Programs that leverage our extensive knowledge of environmental contamination and the conditions conducive to the presence of SARS viruses (including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19) as well as building construction, air flows, building materials, air communication, and HVAC systems. If your structure has undergone extensive cleaning and disinfecting treatments, our services also offer a post-cleaning and disinfecting risk assessment to help ensure your property has indeed been returned to its healthy state.