The festive season is upon us.
Children the world over are gearing up for the visit from the man in red!
While the Christmas period is indeed the time for spreading festive cheer, for those suffering from lung conditions such as asthma or COPD, it can also be the time for wheezing and sneezing.
Many people who have asthma find that their condition worsens over Winter. This can be because of a combination of factors – exposure to dry, cold air and the increase in sinus & upper respiratory infections, both of which can trigger or worsen asthma attacks.
Cold air entering your airways can cause them to go into spasm, the result of which can be wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. There are also more mould spores in the air over Winter, especially if it’s damp and cold, which can further exacerbate the problem.
This, coupled with the fact that cold and flu viruses can do the rounds and are difficult to avoid means that you’re more at risk. Don’t forget to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible to reduce your risk of getting the most common strain of flu virus. (To read more about why this is so important, read our previous blog.)
Everyone’s triggers are different but the main asthma triggers include secondhand smoke, animal fur, mould, dust mites, and pest droppings. Spending so much time indoors over Winter means you need to be more aware of the indoor environmental asthma triggers that you’re being exposed to, and which of them could be a particular problem for you.
The best way to ensure you minimise the risk of an asthma attack over the Christmas period is to take note of the following:
Be careful with your Christmas tree
Choose your tree carefully. When you have a real tree in the house, there’s always the risk of more pollen being present in the air. But you also need to remember that artificial trees and wreaths are generally languishing in the loft for 11 months of the year, which means they’ve got plenty of time to get covered in dust or even mould. Be sure to thoroughly clean your tree before you put it up.
And don’t forget the decorations
The same applies to your Christmas decorations. It’s a good idea to open up all your artificial tree and all the decorations outside to allow any dust to disperse before you put them up indoors. Any soft decorations including the Christmas stocking can be placed in the freezer for 12 hours which will kill off any dust mites.
Keep your distance from the fire
Tempting as it is to curl up in front of the fire when it’s chilly outdoors, it’s best avoided if you have asthma. In the same way that cigarette smoke permeates the atmosphere and has an effect on your lungs, smoke from a fire can irritate them. It’s best to keep a good distance – and try to stay away from strongly scented candles for the same reason.
Cover your mouth & breathe through your nose
This is a good tip if you’re heading outdoors on a cold day. The cold Winter air can be a trigger for breathing problems. Covering your mouth and breathing through your nose warms the air up and humidifies it before it reaches the lungs, reducing the risk of an asthma attack. You can just use a scarf to cover your nose and mouth.
Always have your inhaler to hand
Prepare for being in the cold air before you leave your home, especially if you know that cold air is one of your triggers. If you’re heading out to walk the dog, or you’re nipping to the shops, taking a preventive dose of your asthma medicine can make all the difference. This will help open your airways and give some extra protection for when you’re outdoors.
Be aware of your stress levels
The idea of spending time with your nearest and dearest is wonderful in principle. But sometimes the reality is that the more time you spend in a confined space with all those different personalities in play, the greater the pressure and increase in stress. Emotions running high can trigger your asthma so be aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re worried about something arising on the day it might be a good idea to speak to your GP in advance.
Reduce your risk if you’re travelling
Heading off to far flung places over Christmas is wonderful, especially when it means you’re getting a break from the dull and cold Winter weather. But travelling by plane can cause your asthma symptoms to flair up, especially if your asthma is normally quite severe. The reduced pressure in the cabin can make breathing more difficult. If this applies to you, or you’ve not travelled by plane before and you’re unsure of what to expect for your own circumstances, it’s best to seek the advice of your GP before you travel.