It can be scary to think that every Christmas Day almost 300 people in the UK are admitted to hospital with a life-threatening asthma attack. We know that colds and flu and cold weather at this time of year can increase the risk of getting asthma symptoms, but with the added excitement - and stresses - of Christmas to contend with, and other triggers around, it can be a tricky time if you have asthma.
The good news is there’s a lot you can do to keep your, or your child’s, symptoms under control during the festive season. So in between all the shopping, cooking, card-sending and gift-wrapping, you won't need to worry about asthma symptoms, and can concentrate on enjoying yourself instead.
Get organised in advance
One of the best things you can do to make sure you have a symptom-free Christmas is to plan ahead. This means stocking up on your asthma medicines before your GP surgery and local pharmacy shut for the festive season, and knowing what to do in case of emergency.
Before your GP surgery closes, make sure you know where and how to get help if you need it:
- Book in an asthma review with your GP or asthma nurse if you haven't had one for a while. This is a chance to check that your (or your child’s) written asthma action plan is up to date, and that you're taking the right medicines and using your inhalers in the correct way.
- Take note of holiday opening times.
- Write down any out-of-hours numbers for your GP so you and your family know what numbers to call in an emergency.
Before your pharmacy closes for Christmas, make sure you or your child has enough medicines for the festive period:
- You may need to collect a new prescription in advance. If you do, leave enough time for your GP or asthma nurse to write it and for you to collect it.
- Are your inhalers in date? Are they running low?
- Make sure you have enough antihistamines and nasal sprays for your rhinitis if you usually take them.
“As a family we plan ahead to avoid stress, and this involves making sure we stock up on the kids’ asthma medicines in time for Christmas.” – Asthma and Christmas survey respondent
Choose the right tree
You might be surprised to learn that both real and artificial trees can be a trigger for some people with asthma.
Real Christmas trees are a host for mould, which is a common asthma trigger. Bringing a real tree into a warm, centrally heated home means the mould spores can multiply - increasing the risk of an asthma attack. For some people, even the smell of a pine tree can be a trigger.
Real Christmas trees
If you have a real Christmas tree in your home, here’s a few tips to help reduce your risk of getting asthma symptoms:
- Hose down your real tree before you bring it into the house. This will help to wash off the allergens.
- Keep the tree in the coolest part of the house.
- If you notice any symptoms, get rid of the tree straight away.
“Keeping our real Christmas tree in the cool porch and not having it in the warm lounge has made a massive difference to my asthma” – Asthma and Christmas survey respondent.
“I like having a real tree for Christmas, but I always wear gloves to decorate it, which helps me avoid getting symptoms” - Asthma and Christmas survey respondent.
Artificial Christmas trees
Artificial trees and decorations can gather mould and dust while they're in the garage, loft or spare room. Here’s a few things you can do to cut your risk of getting asthma symptoms if you have an artificial tree:
- Wipe down your artificial tree and decorations with a damp cloth to remove the dust.
- When you pack the tree and decorations away, use plastic bags and boxes so they're less likely to collect dust.
“We wrap our decorations in tissue paper and seal them in a suitcase so no dust can get in while they’re in storage” - Asthma and Christmas survey respondent.
If you’re unable to have a real or artificial tree in your home for Christmas, why not try creating your own big paper Christmas tree to hang on the wall? Ask friends and family to help you decorate it with coloured pens and stickers, and you could even have a go at making unique paper decorations.
If you’re planning to travel this Christmas – whether it’s to visit friends or family, or go on holiday – planning ahead can help prevent problems and help you make the most of your festive time away.
Here are our top tips to stay well and symptom-free wherever you spend your Christmas holidays:
- Make sure you stock up on your, or your child’s, asthma medicines before you travel so you can be confident you have enough to take with you. Keep the medicines in their original packaging with the prescribing label attached, and leave spare inhalers at home just in case you come back without them.
- Alert your friends and family to your asthma triggers so they can make a few changes to their home if they need to. Some people with asthma tell us they worry about visiting relatives with dusty homes or open fires. If these are triggers for your asthma, letting people know in advance will make things a lot easier for you when you visit.
- Be prepared in case there’s an emergency while you’re away by finding out where you can get medical help. Keep the details with you, along with the contact details of your GP at home, in case of emergency.
- Share your asthma action plan with people you’re visiting so they know what to do if your asthma gets worse or you have an asthma attack.
- If you normally use a peak flow meter, take it with you so you can monitor your asthma symptoms while you’re away.
“I take antihistamines with me when I visit relatives because dust mites and pets can trigger my asthma” – Asthma and Christmas survey respondent.
“I always remind people to vacuum a couple of days before I go over for a party, and not to have scented candles in the house” – Asthma and Christmas survey respondent.
You can find more tips on staying well with your asthma while you travel here.
Keeping the children happy and healthy
It can be easy for children to get out of the habit of taking preventer medicines over the festive holidays, but there are a few ways to help your child stay in a routine and have fun without asthma symptoms getting in the way.
- Order our My Asthma Symptom Calendar so you and your child can keep track of their symptoms over the Christmas holidays. Using the stickers together, you can plot on the calendar how they are feeling each day, to keep a close eye on their asthma and quickly see if their symptoms start getting worse.
- Keep a medicines reminder on your fridge, or put up a central noticeboard or whiteboard for day-to-day planning. This will help you to keep on top of your child’s asthma medicine routine over Christmas.
- In our Christmas survey, 42 per cent of people told us stress is a main trigger for their (or their child’s) asthma over the festive period, so finding time to relax will help you and your child to stay well. Make time for calming family activities such as colouring, going for walks or reading books together to help ease the stress and excitement of Christmas.
“I think the excitement of Christmas affects my daughter’s asthma, so we try to schedule in some relaxation time, like doing arts and crafts together and reading Christmas books” – Asthma and Christmas survey respondent.
More advice on looking after your child's asthma can be found here.
During the festivities
"It can be really hard not to let the excitement of Christmas interfere with your (or your child's) usual asthma routine, when there are presents, visiting and different meal times," says Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline. “It’s really important that you do the following things so you can stay on top of yours, or your child’s, asthma as well as possible.”
- Take your preventer inhaler and any other medicines you’re taking exactly as prescribed, every day, even if you're out and about or staying with friends or family.
- Check your reliever inhaler (usually blue) is always on hand so you can treat any symptoms quickly.
- Make sure you know when to go to A&E if you or your child have any asthma symptoms.
- Cope well with your Christmas triggers, such as cold weather and smoke from open fires. You might not be able to avoid them, but there are lots of ways to deal with them.
Common triggers at this time of year include:
- Open fires – Lots of people with asthma tell us the smoke from open fires can make their asthma worse. If you’re visiting friends or family who have an open fire and are worried about getting symptoms, ask them not to use it while you’re there. Also, if you’re visiting a public place such as a pub for a Christmas event, make sure you check in advance whether it has an open fire.
- Alcohol – In an Asthma UK survey, 46 per cent of people told us that having asthma makes them wary of drinking alcohol. There are two ingredients in alcohol that can trigger asthma symptoms: histamine and sulphites. So you might want to take your own drinks to Christmas parties and events to reduce your risk of getting any symptoms.
- Smoking – In our Christmas survey, 59 per cent of people with asthma told us that cigarette smoke has triggered their or their child’s asthma during the festive season. If you’re visiting friends or relatives who smoke or inviting them round, tell them beforehand.
- Food - If you have, or are concerned you may have a food allergy, plan ahead for Christmas events by alerting your friends, family and work colleagues to your allergy so they can help you to avoid food triggers.
- Colds and viruses - Although there’s no guaranteed way to avoid catching a cold or flu, doing simple things like washing your hands regularly and eating a healthy diet can help build up your protection.
- Cold weather – A sudden change in weather can trigger asthma symptoms, so make sure you wrap up warm when you go outside and keep an eye on the weather forecast.
- Stress and anxiety – If stress is a trigger for your asthma, remember to take time out to relax over Christmas. Simple things like having a bath, reading a book or going for a walk can help you to escape the hustle and bustle.
- Perfume and scented candles - In our Christmas survey, over 40 per cent of people with asthma told us strong smells triggered symptoms. Again if you’re visiting friends or family, let them know beforehand.
Remember, if you have any concerns about your or your child’s asthma in the lead-up to Christmas, please call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri; 9am – 5pm). Our friendly asthma nurses will be more than happy to help and offer advice.
Last updated November 2016
Next review due November 2019