Debbie Arrington

Jingle smells can make eyes teary, noses run

Fresh-baked cookies, evergreens and an overload of pumpkin spice; the scents of the season can make us feel merry and bright – or sneezy and sick.

“People think about making their homes warm and festive, but not necessary healthy,” said Jennifer Franz, a Lennox indoor air quality expert. “But that’s something people should think about.

“You walk into a friend’s apartment and there are four scented candles burning and a real tree; it may not add up to a welcoming experience,” she added. “You’ve suddenly got a headache and feel fatigued.”

Winter tends to bring on waves of discomfort for allergy sufferers, but the irritants aren’t the same as summer.

“It’s only because people are closing up their homes so much more tightly,” Franz said, noting the irritants can recirculate indoors.

“You’re not dealing with pollens, but so many other things – stuff you’re bringing into your home as well as (brought in by) your guests,” she added. “It causes a build-up of irritants. We see it in the home in general, but more during the holidays and winter months than any other time of the year.”

What’s making us sneeze? Start with all those holiday decorations.

“You’re pulling down decorations from the attic or garage,” Franz said. “Watch out for the dust. Dust mites also are a year-round problem, but can be so much worse depending on the humidity.”

Christmas trees and wreaths may carry mold spores into the home, she added. “It’s not pollen, but mold potential. At the very least, spray down the tree with water and let it dry outdoors before you bring it inside. Even if it’s an artificial tree, there can be an issue if it was not stored in a cool dry place.”

Cooking smells can trigger allergies. To get fresh air flowing, open windows and turn on kitchen exhaust fans. Scented candles can be another culprit. Stick with plain beeswax or soy candles and skip the added fragrances, Franz said.

Allergic to pets? Pet-owning house guests may carry cat or dog dander with them even if they don’t bring their pets, Franz said. It can cling to their clothes or bags. (Tactfully suggest to sequester their stuff in a closed room or closet, then vacuum after their stay.)

Part of the problem is gas heat, she added. “Gas heat tends to get the air dry. That lets allergies and viruses live longer. Are you getting sick more often? It’s because bacteria actually lives longer in dry air. Your nose gets very dry, too.”

Consider a humidifier to combat that dry air, she said. Air purifiers also can combat allergens such as mold by filtering them out.

And when the weather is nice, consider opening some windows.

Fountain grass and dogs

Some beautiful plants that people love – including some drought-tolerant introductions – may not be safe for pets.

Rocklin veterinarian Tamsen Taylor recently wrote in with this reminder regarding fountain grass, which was featured in the Nov. 18 Home & Garden section.

“I agree that it is a beautiful, drought-tolerant plant,” Taylor wrote. “However as a practicing veterinarian for 39 years and still taking care of pets, the term ‘foxtail like’ is exactly right.”

With its feathery flower heads, fountain grass represents a similar danger to dogs as foxtails, a longtime bane of canines.

“We need to warn pet owners that, like wild foxtails, even these small soft seeds can be snuffed up by any size dog or caught under an eyelid or stuck in a paw,” Taylor said. “Since they are so small, they can be very difficult to find and will result in continued infections.

“While owners learn – sometimes the hard way – not to let their pets roam in the dry grasses of various ‘foxtail-like barbs,’ now some people are inadvertently planting them in the pet’s backyard,” she added.

Taylor has seen this problem in her own practice.

“The first time I experienced this was when a client brought in a small fuzzy house dog who suddenly had a sneezing fit,” she said. “The clients swore they never walked the dog in the dry fields and only let her out in their well-landscaped backyard. Luckily after anesthesia and flushing her nostrils, I found the small ‘foxtail.’ The owners helped me discover the cause. They pulled all of the plants up and I keep a small boutique of them on my counter to warn other owners.

“So, whereas fountain grass would be great for commercial landscaping, it is not a safe plant for people’s yards who have pets,” Taylor said.