Sneezin' around the Christmas tree - (12/8/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist has noticed a recent uptick in the allergy meds his patients have been requesting. And he knows why. Rewind back to when we first started quarantining ourselves because of the coronavirus pandemic. Spring was about to blossom. From then on, we had the outdoors to dine, socialize, and breathe all summer and into autumn. Now that we have entered the iciness of winter, the scientific community still advises us not to hug and to mask our facial expressions under a rag.

As if Thanksgiving wasn't bad enough. Instead of a Norman Rockwell painting with a dozen dear ones scrunched around a table meant for six, we are having supper like a Zoom™ webinar. Except you cannot live-stream the candied carrots to Aunt Velma in Niagara Falls. Now, the CDC is cautioning us to not travel over the December holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and if you are Wiccan, Yule. No canoodling under the mistletoe. And you won't see Mommy kissing Santa Claus sans an N95 mask.    

Instead, what you may be agonizing over are the respiratory problems caused by your holiday decor. With the windows shut and the thermostat turned up, the air will be a pulmonary purgatory. Sure, you are used to being cooped up with your family as well as your scratching dog and itchy kitty. But think of what you cart inside at the holidays that will ride roughshod over your sinuses and lungs.
Let's start with that fresh pine tree you just lugged into the living room. What is more reminiscent of the brisk outdoors? In fact, that conifer may be the home of mold spores and pollen that have settled on the sticky branches all summer. Use your leaf blower to push those sneeze-makers down the driveway. You can also hose down the tree and leave it outside for a few days. Or – and don't drop your monocle into your eggnog – you could get an aluminum tree with a color wheel from K-Mart. Very retro! And how about those poinsettias that are chockablock on every street corner? Use insecticidal soap on them to shoo away the aphids. Remember that these blooms are toxic to cats. A Christmas cactus is a safer bet. 

And those ornaments that have been stored in the attic all year? Again, microscopic critters can cling to containers. Endust® all ornaments before you hang them. If your Disney® Nativity scene has been boxed up all year, run it through the dishwasher (Check instructions first!). Seasonal things that may trigger an asthma attack include scented candles, potpourri, aerosol fragrances, fireplaces, and smoke in general. Keep the air static-free with a humidifier.  

If you or any family member come down with respiratory symptoms and are spiking a fever, seek medical help at once. The last thing you want to do is kill your grandma! You can still get a flu shot to give yourself a leg up on catching influenza. The COVID virus is vastly more infectious and contagious than the flu. So, mask up, wash your paws, and avoid other humanoids until the FDA approves a COVID vaccine, and the Biden Administration finalizes the means for distributing it. According to the CDC, COVID virus symptoms can take 5 to 6 days to emerge after one is infected, but can take as much as two weeks. In the interim, asymptomatic people can infect others.

Meanwhile, do not let your house dry out because you are heating it. Change any air filters more frequently. Wash bedding in warm water weekly. Keep your home at a healthy humidity level (between 40 and 50%). Wear an astronaut's helmet if you have one. Enjoy the holiday. This pandemic will not last forever!

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.


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