COPD, Asthma, and You: Enjoying the Holiday Season

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For many of us, the holiday season is our favorite time of year. It’s a time to celebrate with family and friends, and most people are in a more cheerful mood. If you take care of yourself and observe some precautions, you can enjoy the holiday season despite having COPD or asthma.

Enjoyable Eating

Holiday feasts give us all a chance to eat foods that are not part of our daily diet and to enjoy them together. By following a few guidelines to accommodate your COPD, you can indulge in special holiday treats, too.

  • Try eating your usual proteins, fruits, and vegetables first and then go on to enjoy special treats.
  • Pace yourself. There’s no reason to try to keep pace with everyone else. Eat small portions like you normally do. After all, the holidays give you a great opportunity to snack throughout the day as you wish!
  • Limit or avoid alcoholic beverages since alcohol decreases Glutathione, a major antioxidant found in the lungs.
  • If the dinner table conversation becomes upsetting for you, try just letting it go. If necessary, excuse yourself for a brief rest or a walk outside. Remember to breathe slowly to avoid overtaxing your lungs.

Decorating for the Holidays

Decorating your home for the holidays is an enjoyable, nostalgic experience for most. But decorations can sometimes trigger exacerbations.

When you or others around you unpack decorations that have been stored for the past year, be careful to wear a mask as you wipe them off to remove dust. Dust allergens often trigger attacks.

Similarly, freshly cut Christmas trees usually carry mold spores and tree pollen that can interfere with breathing. If you must have a fresh tree, hose it off and let it dry outside or in the garage before bringing it inside. Otherwise, go artificial.

Scented candles can sometimes cause difficulty even when unlit. It’s probably a good idea to use unscented candles. Battery powered candles provide an extra measure of safety if you use supplemental oxygen.

Wood fires crackling in the fireplace are cozy and the stuff of warm memories. But wood smoke is highly toxic (as bad as cigarette smoke) and will escape into a room despite an efficient chimney. An open fire is also very dangerous (in the kitchen also) for anyone using supplemental oxygen.

Flu Season and COVID-19

More exacerbations and hospitalizations for persons with COPD or severe asthma occur during the holiday season and winter than at any other time of year. Increased frequency of rhinovirus and influenza infections is the primary reason. In addition, this year we are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, then, are some suggestions for keeping your holiday celebrations healthy and safe.

  • Get your flu and pneumococcal vaccination now. It’s never too late to vaccinate, but don’t put it off. If you think you might be allergic to vaccinations, please consult your healthcare provider first.
  • Carefully consider following CDC guidelines for preventing coronavirus infection: wear a mask when in public, practice social distancing, wash your hands thoroughly and often.

Attending Events with Family and Friends

Especially this year, we should all weigh the risks associated with attending public events and get-togethers with family and friends. Very helpful suggestions for assessing risk are provided by WebMD.

If you do decide to attend such gatherings, the following tips can make things easier for you.

  • Try to avoid overtaxing yourself by limiting the number of events you attend. Go only to those that are most important to you and where you can be comfortable. If you begin to experience difficulty, feel free to leave early.
  • Be sure to have your medications, any necessary equipment (nebulizer, inhaler, oxygen equipment), and persons who can help you nearby.

Traveling

Traveling during the holidays has always been bothersome. This year, flight delays and traffic jams in urban areas are more likely. Again, please assess the risk of traveling to your specific destination.

  • If possible, plan to travel before or after the peak holiday travel days.
  • Be sure to have an ample supply of medications and, if needed, oxygen to cope with any unforeseen delays.
  • Some airlines have instituted specific policies for persons traveling with supplemental oxygen. So check with your airline to make sure that you understand and can observe their regulations.
  • If you plan to drive, consider asking someone else to drive you. After all, you want to arrive refreshed and able to enjoy your visit.
  • Be sure to take appropriate clothing to keep you comfortable in light of changes in temperature, humidity, or altitude. You can also discuss coping with such changes with your healthcare provider.
  • Take your time. There’s no need to rush.

Medications, Exercise, and Rest

During the holiday season, it is important to have an extra supply of medications, oxygen (if needed), and other necessary items on hand. Most experts recommend having a 30-day supply to avoid difficulty due to bad weather, reduced pharmacy hours, or shortages of supplies.

During this season and throughout the winter months, you should try to maintain your regular schedule of exercise and rest. If you go outside in northern locations when the weather is cold, be sure to bundle up and slow your pace. Don’t venture too far from home since breathing cold, dry air can increase breathing difficulty.

Resources

For more detailed information about all of the above, please visit the following online sites.

For the most comprehensive, up-to-date recommendations for coping with COVID-19 for persons with various health and medical conditions, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page, COVID-19: People with Certain Medical Conditions.

For suggestions about how to assess risk for traveling and attending events during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out WebMD’s page, COVID Safety During the Upcoming Holidays.

For very useful, general tips about coping with the holidays, visit 1st Class Medical’s page, Navigating the Holiday Season for Those with COPD.