Entries in Christmas (8)


Americans, Swedes Fight Christmas Blues with Light

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Every October as the clocks are turned back, Jose Balido notices that his mood changes, almost as if his body were going into hibernation.

His limbs are heavy and he has trouble moving around.  Simple household chores like loading the dishwasher seem "insurmountable," he said.  But when spring arrives, the lethargy lifts.

"It took me a while to realize what it was," said Balido, owner of a travel social network site, Tripatini.  "I was cranky, short-tempered, depressed, feeling hopeless and having difficulty concentrating."

Balido, 51, was diagnosed a decade ago with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.  The condition affects 62 million Americans, according to Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University and a leader in the field.

About five percent of the population experiences the most severe symptoms of SAD -- depression and hopelessness -- while another 15 percent have the so-called "winter blues" or "winter doldrums."

The vast majority never fall into full depression, according to Terman, but "plod through winters with slowness and gloominess that takes effort to hide from others."

Two decades ago, SAD was identified as a legitimate disorder by the National Institute of Mental Health.  Since then, the treatment of choice has been light therapy.

Balido, who lives in Miami, sought help from Terman and now undergoes light therapy.  He sits in front of a daylight simulator for a half an hour each morning before 10 a.m.

"Within two or three days, the difference was mind-blowing," Balido said.

The standard treatment for SAD is 30 minutes of 10,000-lux, diffused, white fluorescent light, used early in the morning.  About half the patients are helped quickly -- and when treatment is tailored to a person's individual wake-sleep cycle, remission can climb to 80 percent, according to Terman.

This year, a utility company in the northern Swedish town of Umea installed ultraviolet lights at 30 bus stops to combat the effects of SAD.

"We wanted to celebrate the fact that all our electricity comes from green sources and we wanted to do this in a way that contributed to the citizens in one way or another," said Umea Energi marketing chief Anna Norrgard in an email to ABC News.

"As it is very dark where we live this time of year, a lot of us are longing for the daylight," she said.  "A lot of us are also a bit more tired this time of year and I would also say we sleep a little bit more. ...We wanted to give the citizens of Umea a little energy boost, to be more alert."

The town is located about 400 miles north of Stockholm.  In December, the sun rises at about 10 a.m. and sets around 2:30 p.m.  Some towns north of the Arctic Circle have no daylight for several weeks in the winter.

Geography has a strong influence on the prevalence of SAD symptoms, according to Terman.

"The common wisdom is that it's worse the farther north you live, because winter days are so much shorter," he said.  "Not so simple."

Columbia research shows that in North America, the incidence of SAD rises from the southern to the middle states, but levels off and stays bad from about 38 degrees north latitude -- near such cities as San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. -- up through the northernmost states and Canada, according to Terman.

But the problem becomes "more severe" at the western edges of the northern states and provinces.

"This important finding reveals the underlying trigger for relapses into winter depression, since the sun rises an hour more later at the western edge of a zone," said Terman, whose book, Chronotherapy, examines the phenomenon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Allergic to Christmas: Trees, Treats Can Trigger Reactions

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The holiday season is in full swing.  And while many people around the nation gear up for a joyful time with family and friends, those with allergies prepare for an onslaught of wheezes and sneezes that can wreck the holiday fun.

"The winter holidays are a particularly difficult time for people with allergies," said Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.  "There are respiratory allergies.  There are food allergies.  There are skin allergies.  There are eye allergies.  The list goes on."

But with a few simple tips and tricks from the experts, surviving and thriving during the season can be easier than cooking the holiday meal.  The secret to success is planning in advance, well before common food, pet and mold allergies turn Christmas and Hanukkah into a Halloween nightmare.

The Tree

A Christmas tree is a smoking gun for people with allergies, according to Tringale.  Real trees harbor mold spores that can trigger reactions, and fake trees are often stored for months or years in dusty attics and basements.  They can also be coated with allergy-inducing chemicals.

The Fix: Keep fresh trees in the home for less than two weeks and wipe the trunk thoroughly with a solution of warm water and bleach (one part bleach to 20 parts water).  Consider hosing off a fake tree outside and letting it dry before bringing it indoors.  And when the holidays are over, store the fake tree with a protective air-tight covering to prevent next year's dust mite invasion.

The Fireplace

"Fireplaces are great for Santa's visit, but the burning wood, which can be moldy, dusty and have chemicals, also causes respiratory symptoms," said Dr. Marjorie Slankard, director of the allergy clinic at Columbia-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.  The wood smoke from the fire can also trigger itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose, or a scratchy throat.

The Fix: Stack your firewood outside and bring new logs in only when you are ready to use them in your fireplace or wood-burning stove.  And make sure the fire burns in a well-ventilated area to avoid unnecessary smoke inhalation.

The Food

'Tis the season of candies, cakes and cookies.  But for those with food allergies, decadent holiday parties can be a set-up for serious missteps.  Common holiday ingredients like eggs, milk, soy and nuts abound, and can cause potentially life-threatening allergic reactions if accidentally consumed.  Even if a food does not seem to contain allergens, it may have been cross-contaminated if it was prepared alongside known allergens.

The Fix: Ask what's in the buffet before you eat.  If you're unsure of the ingredients of a certain food, completely avoid it.  Consider making and bringing your own food to a holiday potluck.  And most importantly, you should always have your emergency epi-pen ready in case of an unexpected emergency.

The Cat

Your aunt's cat Fluffy may be adorable, but you'll need to steer clear if you're sensitive to the numerous allergens spread by domestic pets.  "A frequent issue is that pet-allergic individuals visit homes of relatives and friends where there are pets, which can cause nose and eye reactions as well as asthma with cough, wheezing and shortness of breath," said Dr. Mark Dykewicz, director of allergy and immunology at Wake Forest University.

The Fix: If you're hosting a party, clear the air of pet dander with the aid of a HEPA air filter.  If possible, minimize the time that pets and guests are indoors together.  But if exposure is inevitable, Dykewicz recommends taking over-the-counter antihistamines, like nasal cromolyn, 15 to 20 minutes before entering an allergic environment and every six hours thereafter, until the party ends.

The Makeup

Holiday party season inspires many women to apply makeup more frequently, but extra layers of foundation and cover-up could lead to dry and irritated skin, according to Dr. Neeta Ogden, an allergist in New York City.  Not only can this "holiday skin" be socially isolating, but when compounded with cold weather, it can trigger uncomfortable eczema flares in those who suffer from the condition.

The Fix: People with sensitive skin should use only small amounts of makeup.  Don't over-cleanse and dry out the skin, but do moisturize frequently.  And if you have known eczema or other serious skin conditions talk to your doctor about ways to prevent winter flares.

The Centerpieces

Strong odors from potpourri, candles, incense, and scented decor can wreak havoc on allergies and can even exacerbate asthma, according to Dr. Tara Carr, director of the adult allergy program at Arizona Health Sciences Center.  Being trapped indoors with heavily-perfumed family and friends can also make for an uncomfortable celebration.

The Fix: Besides the obvious advice to not buy products with strong odors, the best way to avoid this one is to talk to your doctor or see an allergist about preventative medications you can take for up to a week prior to exposures.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Holiday Travel Tips: Get Your Flu Shot

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Millions of people will hit the roads, rail and sky over the remainder of the holiday season, and tagging along with them will be hordes of germs ready to spread to the traveling masses.

Despite being surrounded by bacteria and viruses in stores, airports and other public places, there are a few simple ways to minimize the risk of catching a disease, such as the cold and the flu, which could zap the happy out of the holidays.

"You don't want to be a hermit, and you want to enjoy the holidays, but try to use some common sense principles to avoid getting sick," said Dr. Lisa Bernstein, associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

"Even though it's December, it's not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season goes through early spring," said Bernstein.

"This is the prime time for influenza," said Dr. Laurence Gardner, professor of medicine and executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "When people are in enclosed spaces in cold environments, the passage of viruses -- especially the flu virus -- is much greater than in wide open spaces in the summer."

Dr. Michael Perskin, assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, suggests getting vaccinated against other disease, such as whooping cough, or pertussis.

Although it may seem inconvenient to worry about flu shots on top of everything else, the alternative could be a lot worse.

"It would be an enormous waste of time if, because of not getting vaccinated, someone spent five days in bed with a fever and just felt crummy," Gardner said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Plastic Surgery: This Year's Hot Christmas Gift?

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Tina Franklin and Nicole Tuzzolino are each other's best friends and sisters, so each always knows what the other wants for Christmas.

"Clothes and accessories," Tuzzolino, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., said of what she usually gives her older sister, Franklin.

"Maybe some old pictures of us growing up," Franklin, from Costa Mesa, Calif., said of what she typically gives her younger sister.

But this year, even Tuzzolino, 33, was surprised by what was at the top of her 41-year-old sister's Christmas wish list: Botox.

"To be honest, I think she's a little crazy," Tuzzolino told ABC's Good Morning America. "I don't think she needs it, but I know that she's been wanting it, and it makes her happy."

Franklin, the owner of a Southern California bridal makeup company, says she needed a pick-me-up after recently breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, and Botox was the perfect answer.

"I'm getting Botox done around on the crow's feet around my eyes," she said. "That's what I notice the most, between the brows, and then on the forehead."

Franklin is putting her face in the hands of Newport Beach, Calif., plastic surgeon Dr. Tenley Lawton, who says she is staying increasingly busy this year as women in the Orange County area she serves ask for, and receive, plastic surgery as Christmas gifts.

"For a simple injectable, it could be as low as a few hundred dollars," Lawton told GMA of the price range for the types of plastic surgery requests she sees over the holidays.

"If we're talking about a full mommy makeover, which could include a tummy tuck and a breast lift or a breast augmentation, it could be anywhere between $7,000 and $15,000," she said.

There were 11.5 million cosmetic procedures performed on women in North America in 2010, up 81 percent from 10 years ago, according to figures compiled by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons for its 2010 Plastic Surgery Statistics report.

All told, Americans spent $10.1 billion on cosmetic procedures last year alone, according to the report

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Holy Smokes! How to Prevent a Hazardous Holiday

Comstock/Thinkstock(ROCKVILLE, Md.) -- “O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! Thy leaves are so unchanging.”

This may be true for this classic and beloved song…but for those of us with trees in our homes that happen to be too dry, those leaves are easily a holiday hazard waiting to catch on fire.

Tuesday in Rockville, Md., the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission demonstrated how in only 40 seconds your entire holiday could come melting to the ground, along with your house.

“No matter how well you water a tree or how fresh it is when you bring it home, trees last only a maximum of four weeks,” John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., which independently tests products and provides safety recommendations, told ABC News.   

“It’s the speed at which it burns that’s so scary because you need time to get out once your smoke alarm goes off,” said Drengenberg.

According to the CPSC, between 2006 and 2008, there are an average of four deaths a year related to Christmas tree fires, causing an estimated $18 million in property damage.

But, Christmas trees are not the only fire hazards around the holidays. The No. 1 culprit: candles, which account for approximately 130 deaths and $360 million in property losses.

“They can be very pretty and they are very much fun to have, but you have to be careful,” Drengenberg said. “The main tip that Underwater Laboratories can give anyone is blow out the candle before you leave the room.” It may be inconvenient, said Drengenberg, but this small act can “save you a lot of grief.”

“Christmas is a time of many traditions and people like to use grandma’s table cloth on the table for Christmas dinner, but lights should not be a tradition,” Drengenberg said. Tossing lights, he said, is one thing you should feel good about doing.

If the light is frayed with wires showing or has too many bulbs burnt out CPSC and UL recommend purchasing new ones.

Drengenberg explained that a red UL sticker, which can be found on a metallic sticker attached to the lights, means the product has been tested for rain, humidity and UV light, among other things, and has been approved for outdoor use. A green UL means the lights are for indoor use only and should never be placed outside.

Tagging such as this helps to make sure you don’t purchase lights that are too thin and easily broken or that don’t have the proper surge protectors.

Inez Tenenbaum, head of the CPSC, highlighted regulatory enforcement efforts within the United States. This past week, Christmas lights arriving at a port in Long Beach from China were so thin the light could be snapped off the wire.

“Our people at the port saw that they didn’t meet the standard and we seized them and kept them from being sold in the United States,” Tenenbaum said.

Bottom line: Unsafe lights could possibly slip through the cracks and make their way into homes, so ultimately the consumer needs to verify lights are safe.

CPSC estimates that during November and December of 2010, more than 13,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for holiday decoration-related injuries, a number that has continued to rise since 2007.

Here are holiday tips from CPSC to make sure your holiday stays merry:

  •     Use the appropriate ladder when hanging Christmas lights
  •     Don’t use decorations that look like candy or food, as these can confuse young children or pets
  •     Make sure your decorations are lead-free
  •     Designate a family tree waterer to avoid the tree drying out too early
  •     Check smoke alarms and batteries
  •     Have a family emergency plan should you need to evacuate

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hormone Effect: Why Christmas Makes Us Nutty

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Arguably, no other time of the year has as profound an impact on our behavior as Christmas.

The combustible seasonal cocktail of high sugar intake, impulse buys, and family feuds can give new meaning to the classic lyric, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." But there might be some biological reasoning behind our seemingly erratic behaviors around this time of year.

Many experts say our feelings, thoughts and actions during the holiday season are driven by hormonal changes that might be more extreme than at any other time of the year.

"Certainly, it brings out the best and worst of us in every which way," said Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco.

While the stress factor is different for each person, the biological basis is the same.  The stress hormone cortisol works overtime during the holidays, Lustig said.

Cortisol can increase sugar production in the liver to power the muscles, which can increase blood pressure.  But stress energy can also turn into visceral fat, which is stored around the waistline.  Previous studies suggest that, in general, many people do not gain more pounds during the holidays compared to other times of the year.  But the body's composition and even how we perceive our bodies are likely to change.

Stress can also suppress the immune system and bring on colds and flu.  And the mixture of stress, temptation and the near-freezing temperatures can get us reaching for comfort food.

Burning the carbohydrates found in the dense, high-energy holiday food can generate body heat and raise insulin levels, Lustig said.

It's great to warm up, but too much insulin can lead to low levels of sugar and can cause the body to crash.  Chronically high levels of insulin can lead to diabetes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


‘Sensitive Santa’ Meets Kids with Autism

File photo. Photodisc/Thinkstock(BLAINE, Minn.) -- A trip to the mall to sit on Santa’s knee is a special event for families, but the holiday hustle and bustle can be overwhelming for kids with autism. That’s why Northtown Mall in Blaine, Minn., opened its doors early Sunday morning for some low-key “sensitive Santa” time.

“A lot of children with autism aren’t able to have the experience of seeing Santa,” said Northtown’s marketing director Linda Sell, describing the typical bright lights, loud music and long line. “This is our way of helping.”

The mall dimmed the lights and lowered the music volume to make autistic children more comfortable. And instead of waiting in line, kids colored or walked around with their families.

“It’s something very small on our end but it means so much to families,” said Sell.

An illustrated pamphlet showed families what to expect during their visit -- a helpful aid for kids with autism who often rely on routines. And a form filled out by parents in advance gave Sensitive Santa the scoop on their wish lists.

“Its’ such a wonderful event,” said Sell. “It’s heartwarming to see the joy in the kids’ faces, and in the parents.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 10 children is on the autism spectrum.

More than 50 kids of all ages attended this year’s event. The mall spreads the word by sending flyers to schools and therapy centers.

“We will continue to do it because obviously there’s a huge demand,” said Sell.

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a neurologist specializing in autism at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said parents want their children to have the same opportunities as their peers.

“A visit with Santa is one of those things you expect to happen,” he said. “And why should the special needs population not have it?”

Some movie theaters now have special screenings for autistic kids. And Walt Disney World offers special passes that allow them to skip long waits in crowded lines.

“This is our culture recognizing that if the kids can’t fit into the template, the template has to fit the kids,” said Wiznitzer. “It’s happening more and more.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ho Ho Horrible: Is Your Child Scared of Santa? 

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(CLEVELAND, Ohio) -- At age 2, Christopher Texler couldn't wait to meet Santa. He watched patiently as, one by one, his daycare mates were hoisted onto Santa's knee. But when it came his turn, Christopher was petrified.
"The look on his face was one of desperate terror," recalled Christopher's mom, Kirsten Texler, who has the photo to prove it. "He just lost it!"

Christopher's reaction is surprisingly common. Margaret Richards, PhD, a child psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, says it's normal for young children to be wary of strangers – especially ones so strangely dressed.

"We really work with kids on not talking to strangers and being cautious about those kinds of things, and that all goes out the window at Christmas time," Richards says.

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is perhaps more widely accepted than the fear of Santa. But the figures share similar disconcerting features, including their large stature, abnormal dress and covered faces.

The key to overcoming Santa-induced stress, Richards said, is talking about what to expect. But if, like Christopher, a child wants to be nowhere near Santa, there are other ways to get in touch.

"They can write letter or draw a picture," Richards said. "Parents should make sure their children know Santa will still get the message."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio