Holiday 2008 News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the 
Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

An unwelcome present — real trees could make you sneeze

It’s a scene right out of an old movie — heading off into the hills with the kids to cut down a Christmas tree for home. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center, though, say if you choose the wrong tree, you could make the holiday season miserable.

About one in 10 people are allergic to mountain cedar pollen, and these trees release their pollen just at the time you'd be bringing them indoors to decorate. If someone in your home is allergic to mountain cedar pollen, they're in for weeks of sneezing and sniffling.

Fortunately, this is only a risk for people who like to go out into the wild and cut their own trees. The Scotch pines and Douglas firs you find at most Christmas tree lots or cut-it-yourself Christmas tree farms don't pollinate during the winter.

But Dr. Dave Khan, a UT Southwestern allergy expert, says you may still face some allergy issues.

“Anything brought in from outdoors is likely to bring mold spores with it,” Dr. Khan says. “A lot of people are allergic to mold. You can have a live tree treated with fungicide to kill off the mold spores.”

If you have allergy sufferers in your family, Dr. Khan says an artificial tree may be your best bet.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services for allergies.

Media Contact: Erin Prather Stafford

Talk and walk to ward off seasonal pounds

With the holidays upon us, watching our spending isn’t our only challenge. We also need to keep our waistlines in check.

Dr. Linda Michalsky, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center, offers tips to help keep in shape both during and after the holidays.

  • Move! Gather your friends and relatives for a talk-as-you-walk after the meal and circle the buffet table two or three times before getting seconds or dessert.
  • Limit intake to half or less of normal portions except for your favorite dish.
  • Wait 15 to 20 minutes before going back for seconds or dessert, and limit both. If you cut a piece of pie or cake in half, someone will grab the other half immediately.
  • Use smaller plates. If you only have large plates, leave some room so that part of the plate is visible.
  • Drink water between other beverages.
  • Choose a seat away from the food tables.
  • Bring low-calorie foods you like.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in nutrition.

Media Contact: Kristen Holland Shear

Be mindful of allergies while decorating for holidays

As you begin pulling down the holiday decorations from the attic this season, doctors at
UT Southwestern Medical Center have some tips for cutting down allergy risks.

“Carrying items down from dusty attics or pulling them from garages and other storage areas can stir up dust and molds,” says Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, chief of allergy and immunology at UT Southwestern.

If you have fabric decorations, try washing them before putting them up. When selecting decorations, try avoiding fabric, which trap more dust than plastic, metal and glass items.

If the decorations appear dusty, take them outside and wipe them down before putting them up in your home. That can be particularly helpful with artificial trees, which can accumulate dust and mold in the branches.

Other things that may exacerbate symptoms in persons with asthma and allergies during the holiday season include: scented candles, wood stored for fireplaces, even the smoke from fires can be a trigger of asthma attacks. If traveling during the holidays, consider taking your own pillow containing a dust mite-proof encasement.

Visit to learn more about clinical services for allergies at UT Southwestern.

Media Contact: Erin Prather Stafford

Preserving the sounds of the season

As the holiday season approaches, more people voice concern about the best methods for keeping vocal cords in shape for upcoming church choir performances, holiday concerts and spur-of-the-moment caroling.

Common causes for voice problems include misuse, such as loud talking in noisy environments and excessive coughing; smoking; and acid reflux, as well as stress, allergies, medications and even inadequate water consumption.

“The best thing you can do is to keep up an adequate level of hydration,” said Janis Deane, a speech pathologist who specializes in voice disorders at the Clinical Center for Voice Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Grab a bottle of water instead of a cup of coffee, which tends to dry you out.”

If you have to do a lot of singing in a short period of time, consider giving your vocal cords a rest by staying quiet during rehearsal break, said Dr. Ted Mau, a laryngologist and throat surgeon with the Clinical Center for Voice Care. “It’s particularly important to not push your voice when you already feel you need to strain to sing or talk.”

Other precautions to consider:

  • Avoid smoking and smoke-filled rooms or entryways, particularly just before a performance.
  • Avoid eating a large meal just before a performance, particularly caffeine and acidic foods such as chocolate or citrus, all of which can cause acid reflux.
  • Avoid repeated clearing of the throat, which can irritate the voice box. Take a sip of water instead.
  • Treat coughs quickly so they don’t develop into more serious hacking.
  • Avoid alcohol, including folk remedies such as brandy and hot toddies, which are more likely to dry out the vocal cords.

Voice problems that last beyond a few weeks should be evaluated by a physician.

Visit to learn more about
UT Southwestern’s clinical services in otolaryngology.

Media Contact: Russell Rian

If your holiday party list includes asthma sufferers, make them comfortable

As host, you’ve probably thought of everything that would make your holiday get together a success. But Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, chief of allergy and immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, recommends a few extra precautions if your guest list includes an asthma sufferer. The following suggestions can create a comfortable atmosphere for guests and help them avoid an asthma attack:

  • Don’t use juniper or cedar trees, which are pollinating this time of year. Instead, invest in an artificial tree and keep it dust free.
  • Be mindful of fragrances, and avoid using scented candles and room sprays.
  • Reschedule your party if you get sick. People with asthma are more susceptible to colds and the flu, which can exacerbate respiratory problems.

Visit to learn more about
UT Southwestern’s clinical services for asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Media Contact: Erin Prather Stafford

Make good nutritional choices in your holiday meal ingredients

The winter holidays shouldn’t be a nightmare for people watching their waistlines. Experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center offer a few tips on how to cut calories and eat sensibly.

“Place a super-sized salad bowl filled with fresh leafy greens and colorful veggies at the front of the serving line,” says Lona Sandon, a registered dietician at UT Southwestern. “This will encourage you and your guests to start the meal with a healthful, high fiber, low-calorie appetizer.”

Other tips include:

  • Use broth to sauté instead of butter — 104 calories saved per tablespoon;
  • Substitute 1/3 cup of mayonnaise and 1/3 cup of nonfat yogurt for 2/3 cup of mayonnaise — 480 calories saved;
  • Use nonfat milk instead of whole milk — 60 calories saved per cup;
  • Use plain nonfat yogurt instead of cream — 720 calories saved per cup; and
  • Eat skinless chicken — 360 calories saved per whole bird

Cooks should also experiment with sugar substitute Splenda, a no-calorie sweetener ideal for baking at up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Every time you use one tablespoon of Splenda rather than sugar you save 45 calories.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in nutrition.

Media Contact: Kristen Holland Shear

Take potential pain out of champagne — practice safe uncorking of the bubbly

Exploding champagne corks may add a dramatic flair to a holiday party, but they can also cause serious eye injuries such as ruptured globes, detached retinas and painful bruising. Dr. Preston Blomquist, an ophthalmologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, recommends the following safety tips:

  • Chill champagne and sparkling wine to at least 45 degrees; a cork in a cold bottle is less likely to pop unexpectedly.
  • Hold the cork down with the palm of your hand while removing the wire hood.
  • Point the bottle away from people, and hold it at a 45-degree angle.
  • Place a towel over the entire top of the bottle, grasp the cork, and slowly and firmly twist to break the seal. Hold the bottle firmly with one hand and use the other hand to slowly turn the cork with a slight upward pull. Continue until the cork is almost out of the neck. Counter the outward force of the cork by applying slight downward pressure just as the cork breaks free from the bottle.

Visit to learn more about clinical services in ophthalmology at UT Southwestern.

Media Contact: Russell Rian

Parties can bring joy, and sometimes unplanned discomfort

Holiday partygoers may choose to mingle first and eat later, but they may return home with an unexpected guest — an upset stomach — if those foods have been sitting at improper temperatures for too long, says Dr. Vickie Vaclavik, a clinical nutritionist at
UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“To deter bacteria growth, holiday party hosts should remember the two-hour rule,” she says. “Foods should not sit unprotected at room temperature for more than about two hours.”

Cream-based products, eggs, meats and milk are examples of foods in party fare that naturally promote bacteria growth that cause food-borne illness.

“If these categories of foods are to be left out — either unrefrigerated or not held hot — they may become unsafe to eat. The host may use smaller, easily replaced batches, which should be discarded after a couple of hours, or the foods should be held at the right temperatures.”

Other tips include: Replacing platters for fresh food instead of adding fresh food to a dirtied dish; keeping hot foods at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, and cold foods at 40 degrees F or colder; keeping your hands, work surfaces and utensils clean.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in nutrition.

 Media Contact: Kristen Holland Shear

Remember the gift for all seasons

As hearts swell with the season, our charitable donations rise. In this time of personal philanthropy, resolve to make a regular donation at the bank as well.

The blood bank.

Because of the perishable nature of blood and its components, the supply must be replenished regularly.

“So now is the time for a New Year’s resolution to donate blood at routine intervals, preferably twice a year,” says Dr. Ravi Sarode, a pathologist who heads the Transfusion Medicine and Coagulation Laboratory at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“To jog your memory,” he says, “you might schedule your blood donations to coincide with your birthday and wedding anniversary or some other personal and perennial event to time your visits to the blood bank at five- or six-month intervals.”

“The shelf life for platelets is only five days and, therefore, there is often a shortage of this critical blood component, especially during a long holiday season,” Dr. Sarode says. “When you donate whole blood, you help three or four patients because whole blood is then divided into three or four of its major components, such as red cells, platelets and plasma. You can choose to donate either whole blood or only platelets or red cells.”

Media Contact: LaKisha Ladson

Violent toys, video games can be destructive

Forget what the neighbors’ kids play. Be wary of the social-emotional risks of certain toys, as many send a violent message that could later lead to destructive behavior.

Dr. Joel Steinberg, a pediatrician at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says, “Parents should be very careful in selecting toys that may encourage violent behaviors, such as toy guns, knives, bow and arrows, or computer games and violent videos.”

Youngsters who play “violent video games” are not participating in real-life experiences. If they run into a roadblock on a computer game, they may destroy it, and that’s not appropriate in real life, the physician says.

Steinberg offers these other holiday-shopping tips:

  • Purchase toys that are age appropriate. Toys too advanced may frustrate your child.
  • Be sure the toys aren’t designed so a child can break them and choke on small parts.
  • Test a noise-making toy next to your ear. If the sound is too loud or irritating for you, then it’s likely to be harmful to your child.
  • Pull-toys with strings more than 12 inches in length could be a strangulation hazard for babies and toddlers.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in pediatrics.

Media Contact: Erin Prather Stafford

Don’t let drinking wreck your holiday season

The holiday social calendar often may be jammed with get-togethers that come with hidden dangers. The number of injuries and deaths from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents increases during the holiday season as people leave festivities after drinking too much.

“It’s not because people are depressed; it’s just because they’re partying, and they think it’s OK to drink and drive,” says Dr. Kathleen Delaney, an emergency medicine and internal medicine physician at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s better to call a cab than to pay for a hospital bill — or a funeral.”

Legal blood-alcohol limits for a driver vary among states. Regardless, people experience coordination impairment and reduced alertness with blood alcohol levels of 0.05. A 120-pound woman reaches 0.04 after consuming one 12-ounce beer. A 160-pound man reaches 0.05 after two beers.

“Common sense says you know that you’re impaired even at those levels,” Dr. Delaney says. “It’s the holidays, so you’re going to have a few drinks and enjoy yourself. But just don’t drive a vehicle. Designate a driver. Being in an accident is not a good holiday present.”

For those who will not be driving, Dr. Delaney recommends limiting total alcohol consumption, spacing alcoholic beverages at least an hour apart and having a nonalcoholic beverage between drinks to help counteract alcohol’s dehydrating effects. Also, ensure that all drinks containing alcohol — including eggnog and punch — are out of the reach of children. Alcohol consumption can cause a child’s blood sugar to plummet, she says.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in emergency medicine.

Media Contact: Connie Piloto


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