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Common Guest Allergies

Lisa Milbrand
Common Guest Allergies
With nearly one in five people experiencing some sort of allergy, odds are good that someone at your next holiday party may find something in your home that may make them sneeze and wheeze—or even worse. But if you don’t want your guests to OD on allergy medicine or reach for their Epi-Pen, there are steps you can take to make your home more friendly to people who are sensitive to the most common allergens. Here’s how to make your home safer for the allergic.
  • Peanuts
  • Peanuts are the top food allergen—and even traces of them can send an allergic guest to the ER with anaphylactic shock.


  • What you can do: “Cross-contamination and residue can be of concern with allergies, particularly with sticky foods, such as peanut butter,” says Lori Langer, a registered dietician and nutritionist at Live Well Nutrition Counseling, who specializes in food allergies. Traces of peanuts can stick to dishes and pans, even after cleaning. “With an anaphylactic peanut allergy, you cannot be sure that a dishwasher will completely remove all peanut proteins.” So if you regularly use peanut oil to stir-fry in your wok, use a different pan for cooking the meal.


  • Dairy
  • We’re not just talking lactose intolerance, which leads to stomach upset in those who have it (many sufferers will indulge in ice cream anyway). Some people have a very serious allergy to milk in all its incarnations.


  • What you can do: You can probably figure out for yourself that a cheese platter or ice cream isn’t going to be a hit, but even foods like hot dogs, lunch meats, and deli salads may contain dairy. And that’s not even counting the secret ways that dairy can be included in a food.
  • “For any top food allergen, I could give you about 100 ingredients to look for on a label to avoid,” Langer says. The list for dairy includes things that don’t scream “dairy,” like brown sugar flavoring, carob, casein, confectioner glaze, and even imitation milk. Check the label’s allergen listing, and when in doubt, ask your guest what’s safe.


  • Wheat
  • Wheat gluten has become the food devil du jour, between those with a true wheat allergy, people who have celiac disease, which results in digestive system damage, and people with gluten sensitivity. Between the three, it’s likely someone you know needs to avoid wheat and gluten.


  • What you can do: Wheat gluten sometimes shows up in unexpected places, like soy sauce, seitan or couscous, along with the usual suspects like breads, cakes and pasta. But you don’t necessarily have to skip baked goods—most supermarkets have a whole section of the store stocked with gluten-free goodies. Just make sure you ask in advance what your guest can eat.
  • “Rather than trying to identify what a guest can’t eat, it may be easier to ask a guest what they can eat,” Langer says. “Get brand names and directions as to how to prepare the food.” This can be important with wheat sensitivities, which often extend to other grains, including oats and rye.


  • Eggs
  • This culinary staple does more than make fabulous baked goods—it can be hidden in a number of foods, from an egg wash on a pie or pretzel to the foam on a special coffee drink.


  • What you can do: Plan a menu that avoids eggs—and we don’t just mean skipping the omelet. You may have to cross pasta, most baked goods and even ice cream off of your list—and even some unexpected items, like marshmallows and mayonnaise. Watch ingredient lists for egg code words, which include albumin and lysozyme. With severe food allergies, it might be best to keep it simple with your menu. “The fewer the ingredients, the more likely the allergic individual will tolerate it,” Langer says. “I always try to some serve fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as some beverages with minimal ingredients, such as mineral water and juices.”


  • Fish and Shellfish
  • No one’s sure why, but seafood seems to set off allergies—both regular fish and shellfish are in the top 10 common food allergens.


  • What you can do: Skip the surf and go with the turf—keep your meal to land-based protein sources. If you regularly toss a few shrimp on the barbie, you may want to thoroughly clean the grill (or whatever pans you’re using) before the party, and then cook your allergic guest’s meat in foil to prevent cross contamination.


  • Pets
  • Fluffy and Fido can’t help it: They could be causing some serious problems for your guests. Nearly 10 percent of all allergies in the U.S. are due to animal dander, the skin flakes that pets shed constantly.


  • What you can do: Consider sending the pet away for the day, or at least confine him to a room away from the guests. Then give the whole house a very thorough clean, including vacuuming and damp-mopping floors, and vacuuming the upholstery.
  • If it’s impossible to keep the pets away, a good bath the day before the event could help wash away some of the dander. “There is significant reduction in animal dander in the home when pets are bathed on a regular basis,” says Dr. Stanley Fineman of Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. “Typically, it’s recommended to bathe them weekly.”


  • Dust
  • Dust is one of the most common environmental allergens—and one you simply can’t escape entirely.


  • What you can do: Give your home a thorough clean before the party—use microfiber cloths and damp mops to avoid kicking the dust up. “Dusting just before the visitor arrives would actually help make the environment more comfortable,” says Dr. Fineman. If you frequently invite over dust allergy sufferers, consider investing in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, and a stand-alone HEPA filter as well, to help keep dust out of the air.
  • If you’re in the market for a HEPA filter, choose wisely. “The air flow capacity needs to be proportional to the size of the room,” says Dr. Fineman. “In other words, for larger rooms, be sure to have filters with higher air flow capacity.” And keeping your home’s humidity down can help limit the population growth of dust mites, which are often the real reason behind the dust allergy.


  • Hay Fever (Pollen)
  • Hay fever affects nearly 10 percent of the population—making them sneeze and wheeze whenever pollen’s around. And according to WebMD, the amount of time milkweed pollen’s in the air has increased by four weeks over the past decade, meaning hay fever sufferers have longer to deal with the runny nose and itchy eyes.


  • What you can do: Let guests know if the party will be outdoors, so your allergy-prone guests can dose in advance. Consider hosting some parts of the event indoors, to give hay-fever sufferers a break, or either early or later in the day, when pollen counts are typically lower.
  • Mow lawn areas a few days before the party, to avoid kicking up the grass pollen close to your event. If it’s an indoor event, keep windows shut and consider investing in a HEPA filter, which can help reduce the amount of pollen floating in the air. A solid damp-mop and vacuum pre-party can help minimize the amount of pollen, too.


  • Bee Stings
  • A simple bee sting is all it takes to send nearly a half million people to ERs every year. And since you don’t know if you have this allergy until you’re stung, deterring bees from your next outdoor party could be a real lifesaver for you and your guests.


  • What you can do: Cover up food dishes and sugary drinks, which attract the bees—those screen food domes will do the trick. Serve drinks in glasses, not cans, so bees can’t sneak in undetected. Keep fragrant, bee-attracting flowers away from patios and barbecue areas.
  • And Real Simple magazine suggests that unscented dryer sheets, placed under tablecloths, can keep bees at bay

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