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Stay well with your asthma at Christmas

Don't let asthma stop the fun this Christmas

Whether it’s watching out for your Christmas triggers, choosing an asthma-friendly 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.

Plan ahead for a Christmas without asthma symptoms

Are real Christmas trees OK for people with asthma?

Watch out for dust on artificial trees

Common Christmas triggers 

Plan ahead for a Christmas without asthma symptoms

With a little bit of planning, you can lower your risk of asthma symptoms spoiling Christmas:

  • 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 until the last minute – leave enough time for the doctors to get it ready and for you to collect it.
  • Collect your prescriptions 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.
  • Ask your GP surgery about holiday opening times – when they’re closed, phone NHS 111.
  • Write down out-of-hours numbers if you need a doctor over Christmas. You can also contact NHS 111, wherever you are in the country.
  • 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 also email it to yourself, so you have another copy, or email it to other people who might find it useful to see.

“If  you can, book an asthma review before the festivities, especially if you haven't had one for a while,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.

“Your GP or asthma nurse can make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date, so you’re confident dealing with any symptoms over the Christmas period.”

Are real Christmas trees OK for people with asthma?

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.

The reason for this is that having a real Christmas tree brings mould and pollen spores into the house. And in a warm, centrally heated home, spores can multiply.

If you’re sensitive to moulds and pollen, you may notice symptoms similar to hay fever when you get a tree. On top of this, your asthma symptoms could also get worse.

Christmas trees also give off a pine smell, which can trigger some people’s asthma symptoms too.

Here are a few tips if you’re thinking of buying a real tree:

  • Get an artificial tree if a real Christmas tree has triggered your symptoms before.
  • Hose down the tree before you bring it into the house, as this helps wash off allergens. Let it dry first, 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.

Watch out for dust on artificial trees

Artificial Christmas trees can gather dust over the year.  When you get your artificial tree out of the cupboard or down from the loft, wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove the dust.

And 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.

Common Christmas triggers

“The best way to deal with any of your Christmas triggers is to make sure you’re sticking to your asthma routine 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.”

Watch out for these common Christmas triggers. You can read more about them on our asthma triggers pages:

Colds and flu

With more socialising usually going on at Christmas, you’re more at risk of catching a cold the flu. 75% of people with asthma say colds and flu set off their asthma symptoms, but there are several ways you can reduce your risk of catching one of these viruses. These include getting your flu vaccine, washing your hands frequently and trying to avoid people who have cold or flu symptoms.

Cold weather

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.

Stress

Christmas can 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.

Alcohol

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.

Food

If you’re allergic or sensitive to certain foods, this can trigger your asthma. If you’re visiting friends or family, remind them about what you can’t eat..

Open fires

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.

Cigarette smoke

If you’re visiting friends or relatives who smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars, or they’re visiting you, ask them beforehand if they could not smoke during the visit. Find out more about smoking as an asthma trigger

Scented candles

If you know 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. 

Asthma UK Helpline over Christmas

Please note our Helpline is closing on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and will reopen on Monday 4 January. Please call 111 for urgent asthma advice, or 999 if you think you're having an asthma attack. 

Our asthma nurses can give you expert advice on staying well over the rest of the holiday season.

You can call them on 0300 222 5800 (Monday-Friday; 9am-5pm). Or WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728. 

Last updated November 2020

Next review due November 2021