Health & Medical

Top 10 perilous Christmas allergies that could kill you from tinsel and turkey to gin

Top 10 perilous Christmas allergies that could kill you from tinsel and turkey to gin thumbnail

Christmas is dubbed the most wonderful time of the year but for some, the holidays are filled with fear.

According to the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, allergies affect around one in three Brits – that’s about 20 million people in the UK – with some severe reactions tragically proving fatal.

Whether it’s hives from touching balloons or anaphylactic shock from eating a mince pie, there are countless hazards out there that could ruin our festive plans – or even kill us!

There’s nothing worse than a miserable Christmas, so we’ve called upon allergy experts to pick out the biggest hazards of the holiday season…

Be careful this Christmas if you have allergies

Be careful this Christmas if you have allergies

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Baubles and tinsel

“Christmas decorations can cause big problems for dust allergy sufferers,” says airborne allergens expert Max Wiseberg.

“They’re packed away for months gathering dust and mould, which can trigger respiratory allergies and asthma attacks.

“Then while your Christmas tree is on display, fresh dust will settle on the decorations, so to avoid releasing the allergens, put your tree in a spot where the baubles won’t be knocked or disturbed.”

Baubles can be a real bother

Baubles can be a real bother

Christmas trees

“Christmas Tree Syndrome is a genuine condition caused by tiny allergens on the branches,” Max tells us.

“When scientists from Upstate Medical University in New York analysed clippings from 28 trees, they found 53 types of mould.

“Dust and mould can be present on synthetic trees too, and this mix of allergens can make decorating the tree a real misery.”

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If you’re affected, try asking someone to hose down your tree before bringing it indoors. Max also recommends using an air purifier and vacuuming regularly.

And if you’re still suffering, apply a barrier balm like HayMax to your nostrils to stop allergens getting up your nose.


“If you have a latex allergy you should, of course, avoid latex balloons,” Max tells us.

“The reaction includes itchy skin, hives or even anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition that can cause throat swelling and severe breathing difficulties.”

There are many alternatives to latex balloons – and foil ones last longer anyway!

Latex is best left off the Christmas list

Latex is best left off the Christmas list

Scented candles

“Fragrance sensitivity can cause sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny or stuffed-up nose, head pain, skin rashes and wheezing,” says Max.

“The candle smoke can also trigger those with nasal allergies.”

He advises unscented, natural beeswax candles instead, or electric ones.

Electric candles will solve sniffly noses

Electric candles will solve sniffly noses

Turkey and stuffing

Turkey meat is usually fine when unadulterated, but stuffing and sauces can contain allergens.

“If you’re hosting Christmas, you could make stuffing so you know what’s in it, and carefully check labels,” says Julianne Ponan, ambassador for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and CEO of Creative Nature.

Nut roast

This dish is often a go-to for vegetarian and vegan guests, but could set off a severe reaction in someone with a nut allergy.

Some people are so sensitive even air allergens or a simple handshake with someone who’s handled nuts could cause it.

“If you’re cooking for people, ask them beforehand if they have any allergies, and if they do, plan the meal together,” says Julianne. “People with serious allergies cannot take chances.”

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Christmas dinner can be fatal

Christmas dinner can be fatal

Party food

Buffets can be particularly difficult for those with allergies. Food is often bought and provided by different people, making it tricky to keep track of triggering ingredients.

“When putting on a buffet, keep the labels handy for anyone who needs to read them. Iceland has a great selection of party food for those with allergies,” says Julianne.

Mince pies and Christmas pud

Opt for gluten-free alternatives

Opt for gluten-free alternatives

Of all the traditional festive foods, mince pies and Christmas cakes and puddings are packed with allergens, from gluten in the pastry to nuts in the cakes and the decoration.

This is particularly problematic for those with nut, soya, dairy and gluten allergies, although there are some great free-from alternatives on the market.

“If you know you’re catering for someone with one of these allergies, you could make these treats yourself using safe ingredients, swapping out those that could cause a problem,” says Julianne. “My Creative Nature cake mixes are gluten-, dairy-, wheat and nut-free.”

Mulled wine and eggnog

Mulled wine and eggnog both contain a number of ingredients, so need to be flagged to allergy sufferers.

The sulphites in the mulled wine could trigger those with asthma, while eggnog contains a lot of egg and cream.

“Even vegan eggnog versions can use soya and nuts – so the best thing is to make it yourself at home, so you know what’s in it,” says Julianne. “ I like to swap eggnog for a Baileys coffee!”

Eggnog can be a nightmare for allergy sufferers

Eggnog can be a nightmare for allergy sufferers


Did you know certain brands of gin (and some other spirits) are distilled using nuts and therefore dangerous to nut allergy sufferers?

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“If in doubt, take your own drink to a party, or mention your allergy to the host beforehand,” says Julianne. “One drink that is low-risk is a tequila margarita.”

Watch out for these signs of food allergies:

  • Skin hives and itchiness
  • Swelling lips, tongue and/or throat
  • Stomach pain, vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Unusually slow or fast heart rate
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing and/or pain when swallowing
  • Confusion, headache and loss of consciousness

Look out for itchy skin, swelling lips and stomach pain

Look out for itchy skin, swelling lips and stomach pain

‘Tinsel put me in hospital’

Mum Lauren Burgess, 30, from Kent, finds this time of year a minefield of life-threatening problems.

“I was a toddler happily munching on Quality Street one Christmas Eve when I went into anaphylactic shock for the first time. I suddenly couldn’t breathe and my nan rushed me to hospital where they diagnosed a severe nut allergy.

“Nuts are so dangerous for me, I don’t even need to be eating or touching nuts to have a reaction – even being breathed on by someone who’s just eaten them can trigger me.

Lauren suffers from nut and tinsel allergies

Lauren suffers from nut and tinsel allergies

“Another year, I was helping my aunt make Christmas pudding when the same thing happened. My EpiPen is always at hand. But more unusual is my tinsel allergy. My body is super-sensitive to the metal oxide it contains. Seconds after coming into contact with it my lips and hands drastically swell up.

“Between my tinsel and nut allergies, I’ve been hospitalised six times in total. Of course, we never have tinsel in the house and I’m very wary of Christmas trees wherever I go at this time of year. Party food is a nightmare too – so I just tend to stick to booze at parties!”

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