Respiratory Distress Prevention During the Holidays


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so they say!  While freshly fallen snow, the smell of wood smoke wafting through the air, and reunions with loved ones can be magical, for those living with asthma, they can also be triggers in disguise.  Show the people in your life who are at higher risk for respiratory distress (even if that’s you!) some extra love this holiday season and ensure that they can enjoy the festivities as comfortably as possible by making some minor tweaks to your preparations.


Consider displaying synthetic versions of your favorite holiday plants

During the rest of the year, those living with asthma who are sensitive to trees and plants can avoid discomfort by choosing not to keep indoor flowers and plants.  The holidays often see us bringing the outdoors indoors, though; trees, wreaths, poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly make frequent appearances in our homes at this time of year.  While there is an allure to having the real deal, many synthetic variations can be just as lovely, and easier to deal with for those sensitive to these triggers.  If you are using synthetics that have been stored over the year, make sure that they have been kept covered and dry, as it is easy for these items to collect dust and mold, which can also be problematic for those with asthma.

Be mindful of dust that has collected on stored boxes of decorations

Similar to the dust and mold that can collect on synthetic trees, this can also be true of boxed up decorations.    Typically kept untouched in basements, attics, and closets for a year, these items can cause respiratory flare-ups for the many people with asthma who are sensitive to dust.  If possible, have someone without respiratory issues take these items out of storage, and wipe them off before anyone with increased respiratory susceptibility is exposed to them.  If that is not an option, wear a disposable medical mask.

Think carefully about wood smoke exposure

This includes wood stoves, pellet stoves, and forced air furnaces.  The smoke from these sources creates particulate matter which, when breathed in, can irritate the lungs, especially for those with asthma.  Make any guests with breathing difficulties aware ahead of time if this is how you heat your home.  If you have asthma and are visiting, check-in with your host ahead of time.  Check out the Department of Environmental Services for more information about wood smoke, woodstoves, and the do’s and don’ts of wood burning in New Hampshire.

If possible, minimize exposure to cigarette and pipe smoke

In 2017, we all know that smoking is harmful, both to the person directly consuming the substance, as well as to those around them.  This harm is amplified for those with breathing difficulties, but steps can be taken to reduce exposure. When family and friends who smoke come to visit, have your guests smoke outdoors.  Consider storing their jackets in an outdoor space or container to avoid triggers caused by third-hand smoke.

Be mindful of scents

Pine, gingerbread, and cinnamon are just some of the yummy holiday-themed scents to be found in candles, incense, and even bathroom sprays this time of year.  However, while the average person may inhale these odors and find themselves in winter wonderland, for someone with asthma, it can spell trouble.  Take care to check in with those living with asthma and find out if these triggers are an issue for them.  The same goes for perfumes and colognes.  It may not be a bad idea to ask that guests refrain from wearing fragrances to avoid any issues, just as some work places now do.

Don’t forget your inhaler

This may sound obvious, but with the holiday rush and visiting lots of friends and family, managing a potential asthma attack may be the last thing on your mind.  Make sure that your prescription is recent and filled, and don’t forget to fill out an Asthma Action Plan ahead of the holiday rush in case you find yourself in a respiratory emergency.  Get a portable container where you can keep your, or your child’s, medication, peak flowmeter, spacer, and plan.  Label it with name and phone number in case it is lost, and double check you have it with you as you partake in your holiday visiting.

Love Pets from Afar

What’s cuter at Christmas than a dog in a sweater? A cat in a Santa hat.  While that can certainly be debated, we do know that our cute critters’ fur and dander (and in some cases their saliva), can be an irritant for those with asthma and allergy issues.  Check in with those who experience asthma and allergies about this.  While in many cases they can coexist well enough, harm reduction would include keeping animals out of rooms people will be sleeping in, off of furniture guests will sit on, and cleaning up hair and dander using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.  Bathing and grooming pets with non-scented products to remove dirt and excess hair before the arrival of guests can also reduce potential negative interactions.

Get Vaccinated

No one likes getting poked, but making sure that you and your loved ones receive your annual influenza vaccine can go a long way towards preventing exasperated respiratory issues in those living with asthma.  For people with asthma, the severity of influenza can be much worse than for someone without asthma. Visit the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control website for information on the flu, where to get vaccinated, and even how to pay for it in NH.


These are just some of the many ways to make the holidays more comfortable for those living with asthma.  If you use any of these tips, or have ones of your own, we would love to hear about it!  Email us to let us know.  We wish you a happy, and especially healthy, holiday season and New Year!