‘Tis the season to deck the halls. From garlands to menorahs to festive lights, the holiday season is filled with things to help the cold, dark winter days seem a little brighter. For people living with asthma, however, the holidays can also mean an onslaught of unexpected asthma triggers. As we enter this merry time of year, here are some of these holiday-related asthma triggers you need to be aware of and some practical solutions to keep you safe all season long.
Some of the most common causes of asthma flare-ups have to do with artificial holiday scents. These scents come from things like candles, air fresheners, dried potpourri and scented pinecones. Though these items are very popular, they pose a similar risk to people with asthma as air fresheners do all year round. In fact, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), suggests that if you or someone you live with has asthma, it’s best to avoid air fresheners, scented candles and pinecones.
One of the first signs of the approaching holiday season that can be found at many stores is the strong scent of cinnamon brooms. But for many people with asthma, these items cause increased symptoms and the use of inhalers. For better lung health of all who may enter your home, refrain from hanging cinnamon brooms and if you crave that cinnamon scent, opt for creating potpourri on your stove with whole cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg.
Beyond cinnamon, you can add natural scents to your home by baking or creating a potpourri out of fresh ingredients such as citrus and vanilla. If you enjoy the ambiance that candles create, you can use non-scented or even battery-operated flameless candles.
O’ Christmas Tree and other Decorations
Both real and artificial Christmas trees can create problems for those managing asthma symptoms. Live trees can bring in allergy and asthma triggers such as mold and pollen. The strong smell of pine itself can also be a trigger. Conversely, artificial trees can carry dust and mold from improper storage.
If you plan on using a real tree in your home, make sure to either shake out the tree prior to bringing it into your home or, if possible, spray it down with a hose and let it dry before setting it up inside. Once it has been placed inside, be sure to change the water in your tree stand frequently to ensure that mold does not have the chance to grow. Eventually, the tree will stop drinking, at which time it will begin to dry out and you may want to consider removing the tree altogether.
For an artificial tree, it is best to clean it thoroughly before adding the rest of your holiday décor to its branches. When choosing a tree, opt for one without faux snow or frost on the branches, as fake snow can be an asthma irritant. When the holidays are over, store your artificial tree in a clean, dry place.
Artificial trees are not the only decoration that can contribute to asthma flareups. After cleaning your tree, make sure to also give the same treatment to every piece of décor you pull from your storage. When putting them away at the end of the season, try to store them in plastic or steel bins rather than cardboard boxes which can be prime real-estate for mold and pests. Take warning, if your decor has not been properly stored from last year, they may be dusty or moldy, making them prime triggers for anyone with a chronic lung disease. Just the process of unpacking may cause a flare-up.
Home for the Holidays
The holidays bring the biggest travel days of the year. Holiday travel can mean sitting in close quarters with people wearing personal fragrances that can easily cause an asthma flare-up. If you are doing any travel this year, make sure to prepare by packing your inhaler and spacer in an easily accessible place and making sure that enough doses are available.
Traveling can also mean encountering asthma triggers within family and friends’ homes. If you are staying in a home with possible asthma triggers like pets or smoke, make sure to communicate with your hosts about your needs. For instance, you may need to ask if pets can stay in another part of the house while you are there. You should also talk to your healthcare provider in advance if you think you may need to pre-treat your asthma.
If you are traveling away from your own pets for an extended period during the holiday season, be prepared for the “Thanksgiving Effect.” According to the American Academy of Asthma Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI), this phenomenon occurs when a person loses tolerance to their own pet after being away for a few days, causing specific dander to become asthma triggers once again.
Besides pets, wood burning fireplaces—which are commonly used around the holidays and throughout the winter—can also be major asthma triggers. Do your best to socialize away from any wood fires or request that your hosts or family refrain from burning fires.
As we head into the holiday season, the best thing you can do to keep your asthma symptoms under control is to be prepared and to advocate for yourself. With the help of your doctor, create an asthma action plan to treat early warning signs and manage symptoms if they escalate. Assess and track your asthma symptoms to keep your asthma under control and ensure a safe and happy holiday season!
Blog last updated: August 29, 2023