Whether it’s watching out for your Christmas triggers, choosing an asthma-friendly Christmas tree, or making sure you’ve got enough medicine to stick to your asthma routine, there’s a lot you can do to stay well during the festive season.
On this page:
- Plan ahead for a Christmas without asthma symptoms
- Common Christmas triggers
- Choosing the right Christmas tree for you
With a little bit of planning, you can lower your risk of asthma symptoms at Christmas time:
- Check your inhalers are in date and you’ve got enough medicine left in them to last you over Christmas and New Year.
- Don’t leave getting a new prescription to the last minute – leave enough time for the doctors to get it ready and for you to collect it.
- Collect your medicines before the GP surgery and local pharmacy shut for the festive season.
- Stock up on antihistamines and nasal sprays if you have rhinitis or other allergies.
- Find out about pharmacy opening times near you, especially ones open on Christmas Day. You can find your nearest pharmacy on the NHS website.
- Check with your GP surgery about opening times – when they’re closed, you can phone NHS 111.
- Keep a copy of your asthma action plan somewhere handy so you, and others, know what to do if you have an asthma attack. You might find it useful to take a photo of your asthma action plan to print out or keep on your phone. You could share this with others who may find it helpful too.
If you’re worried about your asthma or you’re getting more symptoms, book an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse before the festivities. It’s also a good time for your GP or asthma nurse to make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date, so you’re confident dealing with any symptoms over the Christmas period, says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma + Lung UK’s in-house GP.
The best way to deal with any of your Christmas triggers is to make sure you stick to a good asthma routine, including over the holidays, says Dr Andy. This means taking 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 family or friends. Check your reliever inhaler (usually blue) is always close by too, so you can treat any asthma symptoms quickly.
Colds and flu
With more socialising usually going on at Christmas, you’re more at risk of catching a cold or flu, or coronavirus. In our National Asthma Survey, 75% of people with asthma said colds and flu set off their asthma symptoms. But there are several ways you can reduce your risk, such as getting your flu vaccine and your COVID-19 vaccine, washing your hands frequently and trying to avoid people who have cold or flu symptoms.
Going from a warm house to cold weather outdoors can trigger asthma symptoms. One way to help prevent this is to wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth, as this warms up the air before you breathe it in.
Whilst Christmas is a cause for celebration for many, it can also be a stressful time. It’s important to remember that stress can be an asthma trigger, so however busy things get, try to make some time for yourself.
Some alcoholic drinks contain more sulphites and histamine than others, which can trigger asthma symptoms. If this happens to you, stick to the drinks you know don’t affect you, or perhaps switch to non-alcoholic drinks. Find out more about alcohol as an asthma trigger.
If you’re allergic or sensitive to certain foods, this can trigger your asthma. If you’re visiting friends or family, let them know in advance what you can and cannot eat.
Smoke from open fires or wood-burning stoves can trigger asthma symptoms. Use smokeless fuels at home, and if you’re going to someone else’s house, remind them that an open fire could be a problem for you.
If you’re visiting friends or relatives who smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars, or they’re visiting you, ask them beforehand not to smoke around you.
If you know fragrances from scented candles are a trigger for your asthma, let friends and family know not to give you one, and not to burn them when you’re visiting.
Real Christmas trees
Not everyone with asthma has a problem with real Christmas trees. But they can be a trigger for some people, bringing on asthma symptoms and increasing the risk of an asthma attack.
Real Christmas trees bring mould spores and pollen into the house. And in a warm, centrally heated home, spores can multiply. If you’re sensitive to mould and pollen, you may notice symptoms similar to hay fever when you get a real tree. On top of this, your asthma symptoms could also get worse.
Here are a few tips if you’re thinking of buying a real tree:
- Hose down the tree before you bring it into the house - this helps wash off mould and pollen. Let it dry before decorating with electric lights.
- Keep the tree in the coolest part of the house, so that spores are less likely to multiply.
- Put the tree outside straight away if you notice your asthma symptoms getting worse.
- Get an artificial tree if a real Christmas tree is triggering your symptoms.
Artificial Christmas trees
If you find your asthma is triggered by dust, you may need to be careful when getting your artificial tree out of the cupboard or down from the loft. If the tree has got dusty, try vacuuming it or wiping it down with a damp cloth.
You could use airtight plastic bags or boxes when you pack the tree and decorations away again, so they’re less likely to get dusty through the year.
You can also get advice and support about staying well at Christmas by calling a respiratory nurse specialist on our Helpline, 0300 222 5800 (9am-5pm; Monday-Friday). Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728. Please note our helpline will be closed from 2pm on Christmas Eve and will reopen again on Tuesday 4 January 2022.
Last updated November 2021
Next review due November 2022