Up at 2 a.m. one Christmas Eve with a sick asthmatic child, I surfed Facebook for late-night holiday cheer. What I found instead were many heartbreaking posts written by frustrated parents who comforted crying children as they dispensed breathing treatments around the clock.
While other children got to listen for reindeer hooves, ours couldn’t hear over their own coughing, wheezing, and nebulizing. It seemed like the holidays were filled with asthma triggers – from smoke to cats and mold spores – spreading distress instead of comfort and joy.
My children and I have asthma and over the 14 years of holiday asthma challenges, we have learned a lot – the first lesson being to always kick off the season by getting your asthma under control. Visit your physician before the holidays to update your asthma action plan and confirm all asthma medications are current and adjusted if needed.
Just like an athlete prepares for their sports season, be prepared for the holiday asthma trigger season with a plan to avoid an asthma attack and the emergency room. The time-tested tips below have saved us from unnecessary late night urgent care trips, prednisone and grumpy children.
When visiting family and friends over the holidays, don’t be caught unprepared and always carry your asthma kit (controller medications, rescue inhaler, spacer, peak flow meter). Consider a reliever puff before you arrive and be ready to make a gracious exit if too many asthma triggers abound. Better to hit the road before an asthma attack sends you running for the closest ER.
Call your host/hostess and explain your need for their support to create a memorable and safe holiday. Be specific and offer suggestions. For example, if they have a cat, ask if the pet can be moved to another part of the home during your visit and if a thorough vacuum of the house is possible.
Be wary of loved ones who believe they understand protocol and promise to simply “keep the cat out of your room”. Animal dander settles deep into bedding, couches and carpets. Therefore, packing your own pillow may be one of your best holiday strategies.
Stay conscious of bunking down in basements or seasonally used campers that are brought back to life when company arrives. The fun times of “camping out with the cousins” may bring more sneezes and wheezes than giggles.
If a deep cleaning is not feasible, consider booking a hotel, especially one with a pool or fabulous restaurant where some visiting can take place!
Common Triggers to Avoid:
(when it’s cold outside, closed windows keep these intensify triggers indoors)
- People smoking cigarettes, e-cigs or cigars
- Animal dander and direct contact with pets
- Fireplace or candle smoke
- Personal fragrances
- Scented bathroom soaps
- Candle or essential oil fragrance
- Keep an eye out for live Christmas trees
Holiday Preparation Pitfalls:
When decorating and preparing for winter festivities, avoiding certain situations can help you breathe easy. Beware of:
- Unpacking Christmas decorations and stirring up dust or mold.
- Purchasing live trees, wreaths and swags in which mold can take hold, in addition to their fragrance being a trigger.
- Flocking your own Christmas tree, as the small particles can irritate airways.
- Missing maintenance medication due to changes in routine.
- Exposure to viruses and colds. Wash hands frequently and sneeze into elbows.
- Exhaustion from late nights and extra activities; this can lead to asthma symptoms.
- Too much stress with some family situations. Stress is an asthma trigger.
Be Winter Ready
When the weather outside is frightful, those with asthma need to take added precautions. These include:
- Wearing a scarf and covering your nose and mouth if exposed to cold air.
- Breathing through your nose to keep cold air out of airways.
- Beware of poor outdoor air quality days, often triggered by fireplaces, wood burning stoves and thermal inversion layers. Check your local health department’s air quality management division website to monitor pollution levels and advisories. Stay indoors if the air quality warnings exist.
Before adopting these tips, my family became acquainted with the urgent-care facilities near our relatives’ homes. I am happy to report that we have not paid the facility a single visit in years nor missed out on holly jolly holiday festivities.
Be holiday asthma ready, and don’t miss out on the things that matter most to you and your family.