Christmas parties could be 'deadly', warns charity

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Christmas parties could be deadly, according to a leading health charity. Christmas trees, yuletide stress, party food such as pigs in blankets and festive tipples such as mulled wine could all trigger potentially life-threatening asthma attacks, Asthma UK has warned.

The charity is offering simple hints and tips to the 5.4million people with asthma so they can stay well and enjoy the Christmas party season.

A survey commissioned by Asthma UK, and conducted by YouGov, of more than 1,000 adults living with asthma in the UK revealed that that almost 1 in 14 people with asthma had an asthma attack at their work Christmas party, on Christmas Day or on New Year’s Eve.

If this proportion is applied to the number of people with asthma in the UK, an estimated 300,000 people in the UK have had an asthma attack during the festive season. Every asthma attack could be life-threatening, with three people dying from one every day in the UK.*

People with asthma have sensitive airways. When they come into contact with triggers, it causes their airways to become more inflamed and tighten, causing coughing, wheezing and leaving them struggling to breathe.

Party food, festive stress and Christmas trees could all trigger asthma attacks. Some people are sensitive to sulphites** found in processed meats such as pigs in blankets and pork pies. It’s also found in alcohol, particularly red wine, which can cause asthma symptoms. Stress is a trigger for almost half (43%) of people with asthma.***

Real Christmas trees release mould spores into the air which are an irritant. Dubbed ‘Christmas Tree Syndrome’ this can also trigger asthma attacks. For some people, even the smell of a pine tree can be an asthma trigger. 

Even artificial trees can be perilous if they have gathered mould and dust while they're in the garage, loft or spare room. Dust triggers asthma symptoms in two-thirds of people with asthma.**** During the winter months, when people put on their central heating, it causes dust mites to multiply which can make asthma symptoms worse.

Other key triggers during the festive season include cigarette smoke, the smoke from roaring log fires or the scent from fragranced candles.

Avoiding all of these triggers can feel impossible but there are simple and effective ways to keep asthma attacks at bay. Asthma UK is urging people to visit for top tips. 

Vanessa Brett-Davey, 42, a volunteer co-ordinator from Surrey, knows first-hand how festive triggers can play havoc with asthma symptoms. She had an asthma attack after getting a real Christmas tree. She said:

“After hanging the decorations on the Christmas tree, I soon noticed I had a horrible dry cough and my breath was catching. My symptoms got worse and I was struggling for breath and waking in the night needing my emergency inhaler. I dreaded going to bed because I knew I would be up all-night gasping for air. My asthma was out of control, I was having to use my emergency inhaler ten times a day. I thought it might have been the Christmas tree that triggered my symptoms, and once my husband got rid of it I felt miraculously better.

“I haven’t had a real Christmas tree since – I don’t want to risk it. Looking back, I should have gone to my GP about my symptoms and I want to encourage other people with asthma to get advice on triggers from Asthma UK – it might just save your life.”

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP said:

“Don’t let Christmas party essentials like mulled wine and Christmas trees trigger an asthma attack and ruin your festive fun. Following simple tips could be life-saving, like taking your preventer medicine every day and always having your reliever inhaler with you, it well help you stay well so you can concentrate on enjoying yourself. It’s important that you do know the danger signs of when your asthma is getting worse and you need to get urgent medical help, such as if you need to use your reliever inhaler three or more times each week. For more advice visit


 For further information, please contact:

Emma Warren, Senior Media & Media Officer, Asthma UK

07951 721 393 or

Notes to Editors:

We have a digital media centre with information for journalists including our press releases and statements, case studies, expert spokespeople, our celebrity supporters, infographics, videos and stats. Visit

* Figures from ONS, NR of Scotland and NISRA and analysed by Asthma UK

** Asthma UK Annual Asthma Survey 2017:

*** Anaphylaxis campaign, Sulphite Sensitivity:

**** Asthma UK Annual Asthma Survey 2017:

About Asthma UK

Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. For more information about asthma please visit


1 Estimate based on a YouGov survey of 1,010 adults with an asthma diagnosis in the UK. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1010 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th - 9th September 2018.  The survey was carried out online. To estimate that 300,000 people have had an asthma attack over Christmas, we applied that proportion of people who said they have ever had an asthma attack on either Christmas Day, at a Christmas work party or New Year’s Eve (7%) to the population of adults in the UK with asthma (4.3 million).