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Sonal R. Patel, MD

September 17, 2013 by  
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Doctors PortDr. Patel is a is a mom of twin girls, double board–certified in allergy and clinical immunology as well as pediatrics, and she practices at Huntington Asthma and Allergy Center in Pasadena, California.
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Dr. Patel is interested in:

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An Interview with Dr. Patel

What has surprised you most about parenting? How hard it is!

How do you get your kids to eat healthy food? By also eating healthy. Also by introducing healthy foods from the beginning. I believe that the entire family has to eat healthy and avoid unhealthy foods. I model that behavior.

How do you work exercise into your family’s life? I choose activities that involve exercise in a fun way, such as going hiking, going to the park, limiting screen time, and spending time outdoors often.

How do you recharge your batteries? Getting massages and watching movies with my husband after the kids have gone to bed.


4 Top Tips for Feeding Your Baby

February 5, 2020 by  
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By Jennifer Bright

One of my most cherished memories is feeding my sons when they were babies. It was so special to me that I only recently could part with the glider rocker I sat in to nurse them—and my youngest is 12 years old! I remember the cozy closeness of holding my babies in my arms, gazing down at their sweet faces, and feeling so proud and accomplished to be caring for them in the most intimate way—by feeding them.

New parents have many choices when it comes to feeding their babies, including breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, or combo-feeding. Here are some feeding tips that mommy M.D.s—doctors who are also mothers—use themselves:

“When my kids were babies, I kept this top of mind: Fed babies are best!” says Michelle Davis-Dash, MD, a mom of two and a board-certified pediatrician, in Baltimore, MD. “Whatever method gets your baby satisfied and fed is the best.  If you’re breastfeeding, it’s okay to pump and store the milk for later days, and it’s okay to be tired.  As a new mom, taking life one day at a time is all you can do. Love your baby and reach out for help if you need it!”

“Breastfeeding is best, but it was challenging for me,” said Jennifer Hanes, D.O., a mom of two and a wellness physician at drhanes.com, in Houston, TX. “I wasn’t producing enough milk for my baby to gain weight, despite getting support from a lactation consultant. It was really sad for me, and I felt like a failure. I ended up using formula. I pumped as much as I could to supplement with breastmilk because it helps support the baby’s developing immune system, but the majority of my babies’ intake was from formula.”

“Breastfeeding is best. But mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to breastfeed,” said Sonal R. Patel, M.D., a mom of twin daughters, a pediatric allergist with Huntington Asthma and Allergy Center in Pasadena, CA, and coauthor of “The Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More.” “I assumed breastfeeding would come naturally, but one of my girls had colic and slow weight gain. I was in such a stressed-out, sleep-deprived fog that I didn’t even think about seeing a lactation specialist, but I wish I had. I tried natural supplements, but I still was unable to produce a lot of milk. I came to realize that I was going to have to supplement with formula. I felt guilty, and in hindsight, I wish I had cut myself some slack.”

Dr. Rallie’s Tips

People often ask me if I breastfed or bottle-fed my sons. Moms feel tremendous pressure to choose between breastfeeding and formula-feeding. My experience is a great example of how this doesn’t have to be a one-or-the-other decision. It’s perfectly fine—better even—to choose both.

I got the best of both worlds by breastfeeding and formula-feeding with all three of my sons, and I would not change that experience for the world! For all three of my kids, I started nursing. But early on, I supplemented with formula.

I found this to be beneficial for many reasons. One, my husband could also feed our babies, which was a positive experience for him and our sons.

Two, adding formula helped me to transition back to work. Supplementing with formula meant that I no longer had to pump at work. I nursed my sons at home before and after work, and then they drank formula during the day.

This flexibility helped me, and it also helped my babies. My sons thrived on the seamless combo of breastfeeding and formula-feeding.

— Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H., mom of three, nationally recognized health expert and family physician in Lexington, Kentucky

Mommy MD Guides–Recommended Product: Store Brand Infant Formula

If you choose to not breastfeed—or are not able to for medical or other reasons—infant formula is the only safe alternative to breast milk, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

There are many brands and types of formulas. Brand-name formulas are expensive. You’ll likely wonder: Are name brands more expensive because they contain better ingredients? Is the extra cost worth it?

The answer is no. Ounce for ounce, store brand formulas contain the same nutrients as name brands. Store brand formulas meet the same rigorous Food and Drug Administration

(FDA) standards as do name brands—but store brand formulas cost much less. Learn more at www.storebrandformula.com.

Jennifer Bright is a mom of four, co-founder and CEO of Momosa Publishing, publisher of “The Mommy MD Guide to Feeding Your Baby Right.” She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Don’t Let Back to School Mean Back to Allergy and Asthma Symptoms

September 11, 2019 by  
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Prepare now so your child eases into a symptom-free year

By Sonal R. Patel, MD

For kids with allergies and asthma, summer break from school can also mean a break from their symptoms. When school starts up again in the fall, classrooms are often filled with allergy triggers kids don’t face at home, causing a return of allergy and asthma symptoms parents haven’t seen in their kids since school let out for the summer.

In the fall, I see an increase in kids’ visits to my practice for allergies and asthma. And hospitals experience what’s known as the September Spike because kids who have been off asthma controller medications for the summer start experiencing flare-ups in the fall. When kids return to school, they’re exposed to different allergens—in the classroom, out on the playing fields, and in the school cafeteria—many that they probably haven’t run into all summer. In addition, it’s ragweed season, and for kids who are allergic, it’s a terrible time of year.

Below are five tips to help children steer clear of fall allergies so they can focus on classwork and school activities rather than suffering from runny noses, headaches, and asthma attacks.

  • Find an allergist, find relief. Well before your child heads into the classroom, make an appointment to see a board-certified allergist. Your allergist will create an allergy action plan for your child by identifying triggers your child may run into and helping them understand what causes their symptoms. Children with asthma who are under the care of an allergist have a 77 percent reduction in lost time from school, and an allergist can set your child on the right track, for the long term, to handle their allergies or asthma.
  • Identify potential problems at school. Sometimes parents must act as detectives to root out asthma and allergy triggers at school. Does the school have new carpeting? Sometimes volatile organic compounds (known as VOCs) can result from new carpeting and cause wheezing and sneezing. Are there open windows where pollen can drift into the classroom? Is there a class pet that might be causing allergies? How about mold in the bathrooms? Potential triggers should be discussed with the teacher and school administrators so they can take action to help ease symptoms.
  • Get everyone out on the field! Children who have asthma or allergies should still be able to play any sport they choose as long as they follow their allergist’s advice. While playground games, physical education class, and after-school sports can all trigger exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), if your child’s asthma is under control, they should be able to participate. Asthma symptoms during exercise may indicate poorly controlled asthma. Make sure coaches and physical education teachers know what to do in case of an asthma-related event.
  • Consult an allergist to confirm a food allergy. Parents are sometimes given misinformation about food allergies thanks to home tests and unreliable sources. About 5 to 8 percent of children have diagnosed food allergies, and it’s important to work with an allergist to arrive at the diagnosis. If your child does have a food allergy, make sure the school is fully informed. Work with your allergist and school staff to create an action plan that lists the foods your child is allergic to, what treatment needs to be given, and emergency contact information.
  • Prep your child. Make sure you’ve discussed how to handle emergencies with your child. No matter what state you live in, your child has the right to carry and use asthma and anaphylaxis medications at school. Children who are at risk of anaphylaxis should have auto-injected epinephrine available to prevent this severe, life-threatening reaction caused by allergies to certain foods or insect stings. Be sure your child and school staff know how to use emergency medications.

A board-certified allergist is the specialist best trained to treat your child’s allergies or asthma. Work with the allergist to make sure that your child’s allergy medications are appropriate for their height and weight, their asthma action plan is up-to-date, and symptoms are under control.

To ensure you’re fully prepared for the fall, contact your allergist. If you need help locating one, use the “Find an Allergist” feature on the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s website (ACAAI.org/locate-an-allergist). You can also visit MyAllergyMD.com for more information.

About the Author: Sonal R. Patel, MD, is a mom of twin daughters and an allergist with Huntington Asthma and Allergy Center in Pasadena, California. She is double board-certified in allergy-clinical immunology and pediatrics. She is the coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More. You can find her on Twitter @TMommyMD.

Read every parenting book out there, then throw them all out the window!

March 1, 2019 by  
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By Sonal R. Patel, MD

There’s a certain lure to self-help books—especially if you’re anything like me. I’m always on the quest for more knowledge; I’m the perpetual student.

I’m constantly either looking for ways to better myself, or looking for ways to do things better or faster. In other words, a shortcut!

I am embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve read almost every popular parenting book out there. Heck, I’ve even coauthored a surviving twins guide! And before I was a parent, I read many self-help books on dating, better communication, how to improve my career, etc.

Well, by read, I don’t mean that I actually read all of the books from cover to cover. I usually skim through them, or read only particular chapters of interest or those that I feel will be of benefit to me.

What I’ve come to realize is that there’s no magic solution to parenting. There’s no hack.

Parenting is a work in progress. It’s an evolution of ourselves and our children.

Some parenting techniques require both parents (and often grandparents) to consistently apply them for them to be able to work. Some techniques are more rigorous than others. Some are too lax for my parenting style; some are too rigid. But I like picking up a few key ideas from each book. You have to know your own temperament and your child’s. You have to constantly adjust. Needs change as situations change and as your child’s development changes. Know your child, and know yourself so that you can anticipate problems and set boundaries, but adjust them when you need to.

No one tells you how hard parenting is going to be! No single self-help book can help you hack parenting. It’s a work in progress for all of us.

PS: My current favorite is Weird Parenting Wins by Hillary Frank of the podcast The Longest Shortest Time.

About the Author: Sonal R. Patel, MD, is a mom of twin daughters and an allergist with Huntington Asthma and Allergy Center in Pasadena, California. She is double board-certified in allergy-clinical immunology and pediatrics. She is the coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More. You can find her on Twitter @TMommyMD.

The Rise of Spring Allergies: Fact or Fiction?

June 1, 2018 by  
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Several factors determine the severity of allergy season

 By Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.


The spring 2018 allergy season could be the worst yet, or at least that’s what you might hear. Every year is coined as being the worst for allergy sufferers, but are spring allergies really on the rise?


There are many events that can help predict how bothersome the spring allergy season will be.  While it’s true that allergies are on the rise and affecting more Americans than ever, each spring isn’t necessarily worse than the last.


According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), 23.6 million Americans were diagnosed with hay fever in the last year. The prevalence of allergies is surging upward, with as many as 30 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children having at least one allergy.


Following are factors that influence the severity of allergy season, along with some explanations about why more Americans are being diagnosed with allergies.


  • Climate Change: Recent studies have shown that pollen levels have been gradually increasing every year. Part of the reason for this is due to the changing climate. The warmer temperatures and mild winters cause plants to begin producing and releasing pollen earlier, making the spring allergy season longer. Rain can promote plant and pollen growth, while wind accompanying rainfall can stir pollen and mold into the air, heightening symptoms. The climate is not only responsible for making the allergy season longer and symptoms more bothersome, but it may also be partially to blame for the rise in allergy sufferers.


  • Priming Effect: A mild winter can trigger an early release of pollen from trees. Once allergy sufferers are exposed to this early pollen, their immune systems are primed to react to the allergens, meaning there will be little relief even if temperatures cool down before spring is in full bloom. This “priming effect” can mean heightened symptoms and a longer sneezing season for sufferers.


  • Hygiene Hypothesis: This theory suggests that exposure to bacterial by-products from farm animals, and even dogs, in the first few months of life reduces or delays the onset of allergies and asthma. Scientists theorize that because of the modern emphasis on cleanliness, children’s environments may be “too clean,” which might not allow their immune systems to be challenged and to develop properly. This may, in part, explain the increasing incidence of allergies worldwide in developed countries.


  • Allergy: The New Kleenex: Ever hear someone ask for a Kleenex instead of a tissue? Much like some people relate all tissues to Kleenex, many also blame runny noses, sneezing, and itchy eyes on allergies, even if they haven’t been accurately diagnosed. Increased awareness and public education about allergies can make it seem like nearly everyone has an allergy or is getting diagnosed with allergies, but it could be more of a public perception issue than you think.


While many allergy sufferers reach for over-the-counter medications to find relief, it’s best to visit a board-certified allergist if you believe you might have an allergy. An allergist can perform proper testing to accurately diagnose and treat your condition so the spring sneezing season doesn’t have to be bothersome.


Over-the-counter medications may work for those with mild symptoms, but they can cause a variety of unwanted side effects. For sufferers with persistent symptoms, treatment may include allergy shots, which not only provide symptom relief, but also modify and prevent disease progression.


If you think you might be one of the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergy and asthma, you can track your symptoms with the free online tool MyNasalAllergyJournal.org.


About the Author

Dr. Patel is a mom of twin daughters and a physician who specializes in pediatric/adult allergy and immunology with Adventist Health Physicians Network. She is also coauthor of the forthcoming Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More.





Double-Duty Spring Cleaning: Keep Healthy and Tidy

May 25, 2018 by  
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Seasonal ritual can also help ward off allergy and asthma symptoms


By Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.

Spring cleaning can be more than a daunting chore for those with allergies and asthma. Dust, pet hair, and cleaning supplies can leave you reaching for the tissues instead of the broom. But according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), spring cleaning can also help you avoid allergy symptoms.

When pollen counts are high outdoors, you may be inclined to stay indoors to try to avoid allergy symptoms. But seasonal allergy symptoms can last all year round for those allergic to indoor allergens.

Relief can sometimes be as simple as knowing how to remove allergens from your home. Here are some useful tips for banishing allergens in your home, and ways to avoid accidentally letting more in.

Remember that a fresh breeze won’t please. At the first sign of balmy temperatures, you might get the urge to open up your windows to bring in fresh scents. But this can also lead to unwanted pollen particles entering your home and making you sneeze long after your spring cleaning is complete. Before you reach for the air fresheners and candles, be aware that chemicals found in these items can spur asthma attacks. Your best choice is to opt for natural aromas from the oven or to try an organic air freshener.

Rub a dub, scrub. Bathrooms, basements, and areas that are tiled can be especially prone to mold. The key to reducing mold is moisture control. Be sure to use bathroom fans and clean up any standing water immediately. Scrub any visible mold from surfaces with detergent and water, and completely dry. You can also help ward off mold by keeping your home’s humidity level below 60 percent and cleaning the gutters regularly.

Love your pets, not their dander. After your family pets have spent many days indoors over the winter, chances are the levels of fur, saliva, and dander might be elevated throughout your home. Remove pet allergens by vacuuming frequently and washing upholstery, including your pet’s bed. Also be sure to keep your pets out of the bedroom at all times to ensure you can sleep symptom-free.

Do a whole-house deep cleaning—in stages, if necessary. Cleaning the entire house from top to bottom may take days. But you can get a head start by changing your air filters every three months and using filters with a MERV rating of 11 or 12. Also be sure to vacuum regularly to get rid of dust mites. Use a cyclonic vacuum, which spins dust and dirt away from the floor, or a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Wash bedding and stuffed animals weekly.

Don’t neglect the great outdoors. As the grass turns green and flowers bud, it’s hard to stay indoors and focus on your spring cleaning routine. Still, it’s best to avoid being outdoors when pollen counts are highest (midday and afternoon hours). When mowing and gardening, be sure to wear gloves and an N95 particulate pollen mask (as rated by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH), and take your medication before you go outside. Avoid touching your eyes, and be sure to wash your hands, hair, and clothing when you go back indoors.

Even when you reduce the number of allergens in your home, allergy symptoms can still be bothersome. Those with seasonal and perennial allergies should be under the care of a board-certified allergist, who can identify the source of the suffering and develop a treatment plan to eliminate symptoms.

For more information about seasonal allergies and to locate an allergist, visit Dr. Patel’s Allergy Busters or AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.


About the Author
Dr. Patel is a mom of twin daughters and a physician who specializes in pediatric/adult allergy and immunology with Adventist Health Physicians Network. She is also coauthor of the forthcoming Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More.

Allergies and Asthma Are Bigger Summer Camp Challenges Than Homesickness

May 17, 2018 by  
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Allergies and Asthma Are Bigger Summer Camp Challenges Than Homesickness

What to consider when choosing a camp


By Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.


The biggest worry for some kids as they head off to summer camp is whether their iPad will get a connection in the North Woods. Others have far graver concerns, including nasal allergies, asthma and food allergies. Parents of kids with these conditions have to do homework to determine the best camp fit for their child. The goal is to keep kids safe while allowing them to have fun and create memories.


Finding the right camp for your child with allergies or asthma can seem daunting, depending on how serious your child’s symptoms are. The good news is that more camps understand how to keep a child with allergies or asthma safe and make sure they have the right protections in place. It’s important to be specific about your child’s needs and to search for a camp that’s a good fit.


Following are some guidelines for finding the right summer camp for your child with allergies or asthma.


Make sure all hands are on deck. Whether children are attending day camp or sleepaway camp, a key component to keeping them safe is ensuring the staff is knowledgeable on handling potential medical emergencies. It’s not enough for the camp director to understand how to store and use an epinephrine auto injector or an asthma inhaler. The staff needs to be trained in what to do when a severe allergic reaction or asthma emergency occurs, and how to help children properly use their devices. They also need to know when to call 911, where the nearest hospital is, and the quickest route there.


Send along more than clean undies. If your child uses medications for her nasal allergies or asthma, or if she carries an epinephrine auto injector for severe allergic reactions, visit the allergist before she leaves. Make sure her prescriptions are the appropriate dose for her height and weight and are up-to-date. Then send along a sufficient supply of her medications, including a spare. Double-check expiration dates on existing supplies.


Go ahead and mess with the mess hall. Food is a big part of any camp experience, particularly sleepaway camp. If your child has a food allergy, communicate with the kitchen staff to make sure no areas exist where cross-contamination can occur. Find out how the camp communicates and monitors food allergy information and determine whether that works for you and your child. If your child will be attending day camp, sending a bag lunch is probably best because you can guarantee he or she will be eating safe foods. Remind your child that eating other kids’ food isn’t okay.


Going to camp to make new friends and have fun is something kids enjoy and remember for many years. But more importantly for kids with asthma and allergies, going to camp can provide an opportunity to spread their wings and have some independence. It’s a way to prove to themselves, and to you, that they’re capable of handling their health challenges on their own.


All children with asthma or allergies who go to camp need an emergency health plan in place with the head of the camp, with the camp medical personnel, and with their counselor. For more information about the treatment of severe allergic reactions and asthma, and to locate an allergist in your area, visit AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.


About the Author

Dr. Patel is a mom of twin daughters and a physician who specializes in pediatric/adult allergy and immunology with Adventist Health Physicians Network. She is also coauthor of the forthcoming Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More.



Five Things to Do to Feel Better during Spring Allergy Season

May 8, 2018 by  
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Five Things to Do to Feel Better During Spring Allergy Season

These simple tips can ease your allergy and asthma symptoms


By Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.

Nobody said spring allergies would be fun, but you never thought they would be this bad. What if you had some simple ways to avoid the sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose that come in the spring?

Many people think they’re doing everything they can to battle spring allergies,  but many still find themselves under siege from pollen and other allergens that appear once the weather starts to warm up. What they don’t realize is that by following a few simple rules, they can make life a lot more pleasant, and their allergies more bearable.

  1. Do some Spring cleaning to spruce up your nasal passages. – Sweeping up the cobwebs that gathered over the winter is good for more than just making your house look better. Giving your home a deep house scrub can help eliminate existing allergens and clear the air. It’s especially important to get rid of mold, which builds up in bathrooms and basements and is a major allergen— – especially in spring months when there’s a lots of moisture.  Because your pets have spent a lot of time indoors over the winter, fur, saliva, and dander have probably collected. Vacuuming frequently and washing upholstery and pet beds can help.
  2. Ponder the power of pollen. – Some people with allergies may not realize that symptoms they think are related to their allergies, might actually be asthma. Studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of those with asthma also have an allergy, which can make the spring season particularly difficult. If you can’t get rid of a cough, or get winded easily, you might have asthma related to allergies and should see an allergist. An allergist can identify the source of your asthma, and help you treat your allergies to improve symptoms.
  3. Time to clear the air? Know your best options.  – Despite what you may have heard, the best way to clean the air in your home is not with an ionic air filter. The ionization changes the charge on a particle of pollen or dust, and the particle sticks to the next thing it comes into contact with, often a wall or other surface. There is usually not enough air flow to effectively filter many particles, so ionic filters don’t provide much benefit for allergy sufferers. There is also a health risk which comes from the ozone they produce. The best way to clean the air is with a HEPA room air cleaner rated with a high Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). The CADR consists of three numbers, which rate their effectiveness against three common indoor air pollutants: tobacco smoke, pollen, and dust (in that order). Compare models and choose those with the highest ratings for the pollutants that most concern you. For those with central air, change your air filters every three months and use filters with a MERV rating of 11 or 12.
  4. Wait, don’t smell that “fresh” air. – Spring comes and you just want to open your windows and let in the fresh air. Don’t do it. Opening your windows allows pollen to drift inside, and settle into your carpet, furniture, and upholstery, so you’ll continue to feel miserable. Instead, keep your house and car windows shut during allergy season. Use your air conditioning with the new air filter you just put in.
  5. Don’t trust “Dr. Google.” – You know you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, but it’s so tempting to look up cures for your symptoms. Instead, consult an allergist.  He or she is trained in how to identify your specific allergens and treat your symptoms. Allergists can suggest the most appropriate medications to treat your allergies and asthma. You might even benefit from allergy shots (immunotherapy), which can greatly alleviate allergic suffering.

If you think you might be one of the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergy and asthma, Find an Allergist, track your symptoms at MyNasalAllergyJournal.org, and watch this video to learn more about Spring Sneezing Season. You can also download a Pollen App to let you know what pollens are in your area. You can find links and more information at Allergy Busters.


About the Author

Dr. Patel is a mom of twin daughters and a physician who specializes in pediatric/adult allergy and immunology with Adventist Health Physicians Network. She is also coauthor of the forthcoming Mommy MD Guide to Twins, Triplets, and More.




New Year Resolutions for People with Food and Latex Allergies

January 3, 2018 by  
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New Year Allergyby Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.

For many, January is a time to review the past year and set goals for what to accomplish in the coming months. For families with life-threatening allergies, this review may also include strategies to better prepare for an anaphylactic emergency.

“After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s important to circle back with family and review the year—celebrate what worked, and modify what didn’t,” says Tonya Winders, president and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network, the leading patient education and advocacy organization for people with asthma and allergies. “Use this opportunity to recharge the family’s understanding about allergies and how best to manage them.”

The Network suggests the following New Year’s resolutions for managing life-threatening allergies:

Replace fear with facts. Schedule an appointment with your allergist to review your food or latex allergy diagnosis: Do you know exactly what you are allergic to? Is it time for new testing? What is working or not working in your prevention program? Make a list of questions in advance and be sure to include food-allergic children in the conversation. Help them understand how to prevent exposure and respond to symptoms.

Practice prevention and build confidence. Educate your kids by reading food labels with them, both at home and the grocery store. Focus on words related to their specific allergies. In addition, talk with them about situations they find difficult to handle, such as being offered snacks that may contain allergens at school or parties; role-play to help them build confidence. Always be prepared for accidental ingestions.

Organize medications. With life-threatening food, latex, or other allergies, it’s important to carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with you everywhere, every day. Learn when an epinephrine auto-injector may be indicated and how it can be properly used and stored. Devise convenient and creative ways to keep them close at hand. Check expiration dates on your devices and put renewal reminders on your calendar. Make sure school forms are completed.

Build a safety net of family and caregivers who understand. Allergy & Asthma Network offers free resources to share with family and friends. Visit AllergyAsthmaNetwork.org for a wide range of information. Download or call 800-878-4403 for Understanding Anaphylaxis, Living Confidently with Food Allergy, or Living with Latex Allergy, free guides to help you manage your condition.

Increase community awareness: Become an advocate. States and towns across the country are passing laws and implementing new strategies for food and latex allergy safety in schools, healthcare facilities, restaurants, and more.

With some creative thinking, patients and families with life-threatening food and latex allergies can be more aware and prepared in 2018.

Allergic to Christmas?

December 20, 2017 by  
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by Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.


’Tis the season for Christmas trees, poinsettias, mistletoe, and scented candles. But if your nose looks like Rudolph’s, it’s a little hard to feel jolly. Although allergies typically peak in the spring and fall, the holidays may surprise sensitive sufferers with a gift of unexpected triggers. Here are some common holiday allergens/triggers, along with some advice to help you stay merry and healthy—rather than sneezing, coughing, and scratching—during the holiday season.


  1. Trigger: Christmas Trees

Mold is the biggest problem with live Christmas trees. Often, they are cut in advance and kept in humid environments, promoting mold spore growth. Within just two weeks of bringing a tree into your home, indoor mold counts can increase significantly, according to one study.

The sap contains terpene and other substances that can irritate skin and mucous membranes; plus, pollen stuck to the tree may be released inside and lead to reactions. Given this, you might think an artificial version is better, but they could harbor dust and mold from their time in storage, also triggering allergies.

Precautions: Slip on gloves and wear long sleeves when handling your fresh tree to avoid the sap coming into contact with your skin. Before schlepping your tree inside, give it a good shake (or a blast with a leaf blower) and spray it down with a garden hose (especially the trunk) to help remove some of the pollen and mold. Then sit the stump in a bucket of water and let the tree dry for a few days on a covered porch or in a garage. For an artificial tree, give it a good wipe-down before decorating with lights and ornaments. Follow the package directions carefully when spraying artificial snow or flocking. Inhaling these sprays can irritate your lungs and trigger asthma symptoms (in my opinion, it’s better to avoid these products altogether).


  1. Trigger: Foods

The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat. Of those, peanuts and tree nuts will most often make it into holiday dishes without people knowing, and they have the potential to cause severe reactions.

Precautions: It’s a good idea to let your holiday host know about your food allergies; it’s important to ask about the ingredients in each dish; and it’s very nice to volunteer to bring something that’s safe for you and shareable with others. But what’s crucial is to be prepared with an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), an emergency dose of antihistamine, and an inhaler if you have asthma. Learn which foods and recipes are unexpected sources of allergens at FoodAllergy.org and AAAAI.org.


  1. Trigger: Cocktails (Sulfites)

You raise a glass to your loved ones, your boss and colleagues, friends and neighbors, and even the strangers sitting next to you at a bar. There’s lots of celebrating at this time of year, but be mindful of what you’re using to toast. Some people may experience mild wheezing or other symptoms from the sulfites in wine, for example, and certain alcoholic beverages contain major food allergens.

Precautions: There aren’t good tests for sulfite sensitivity, but your reaction to dried fruit—high in this sulfur-based preservative—could be an indicator. Pay attention if you have asthma, as sulfites can trigger symptoms. Maraschino cherries contain small amounts of sulfites as well. Stick with organic wine for a sulfite-free sip. Other triggers to be aware of: Tree nuts may be found in specialty beers, particularly seasonal ales; milk is in Irish cream and white chocolate liqueurs; and egg whites may be used to add froth to specialty drinks.


  1. Trigger: Travel

Staying in a hotel for the holidays may be wonderful, but not if you have allergies. Pillows and bedding can harbor a lot of dust mites. You may have difficulties with some of the detergents they use as well. If you will be staying with family, their pets may trigger your symptoms.

Precautions: Consider bringing your own pillow, or at least a dust mite cover for the pillow you’ll be using. Also make sure you get a nonsmoking room. If you’re allergic to your family’s pet, take your medicines with you. If possible, avoid petting the animal, and wash your hands after direct contact.


Other Holiday Triggers

Stress: Be aware that stress can lead to asthma attacks. Chemicals released by the body during stressful times can cause the muscles around your airways to tighten, making it difficult to breathe.

  • Poinsettias: This festive plant is a member of the rubber tree family and contains compounds similar to those found in latex, so stay away if you have a latex allergy. Certain groups of people—such as healthcare workers and people with spina bifida who have had numerous surgeries—are more likely to be allergic to latex. One study showed that 40 percent of latex-allergic individuals were also allergic to poinsettias.


The key is to be prepared and plan ahead. Consult with your doctor in advance.


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The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.