Living with Asthma

Surviving the Season with Asthma

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

The fall and winter months are filled with some of our favorite holidays, but Michigan’s cold weather can cause problems for people with asthma. It is difficult to enjoy yourself at holiday gatherings when you are coughing, sneezing and struggling from shortness of breath.

Holiday specific asthma triggers include seasonal decorations, cold weather and the “Thanksgiving Effect, ” explains Henry Ford family medicine physician Shazia Qamar, M.D. Know which triggers are explicit to you, and follow these suggestions for a happy holiday.

Holiday Decorations
Cozying up to a warm fire, lighting your favorite gingerbread scented candle and decorating your family’s Christmas tree can all trigger an asthma attack.

  • Smoke causes wheezing, so avoid roasting chestnuts on an open fire, and as always, steer clear from cigarette smoke. Likewise, your favorite scented candles and other strong holiday fragrances may cause irritation, triggering asthma symptoms.
  • Decking the halls with Christmas trees and poinsettias can cause more harm than holiday cheer. If you have latex allergies, avoid poinsettias, which are a member of the rubber tree family. Mold spores found on the trunk or terpene from the tree sap of a living Christmas tree can cause symptoms like sneezing and itching. Dr. Qamar suggests using an artificial tree or, if you must have the real thing, dry the tree in a garage for a week prior to bringing it inside. Use an air purifier in the room hosting the tree to help eliminate any triggers.
  • Be sure to wipe off dust from your holiday decorations before using.

Cold Weather
Michigan winters can be especially brutal, and for asthma patients, breathing in cold air is a trigger. So what can you do to help? Cover your face with a scarf or a facemask so you are not directly breathing in the cold air, recommends Dr. Qamar. If you breathe through your nose and not your mouth, be sure that your scarf is covering both in order to avoid an asthma attack.

Anything you can do to bundle up and stay warm will make raking leaves or building Frosty the Snowman more enjoyable. It is important to note that moving to warmer climate seldom brings solutions to asthma. Weather changes can affect or trigger other allergies. Dr. Qamar urges to not let the effects of asthma dictate your daily activities. Communicating with your doctor, routine care and checkups will all help in controlling your asthma.

The “Thanksgiving Effect”
If you are a college student returning home or if you are traveling for the holidays, beware of the phenomenon known as the “Thanksgiving Effect. It is common for an individual to lose tolerance to his or her own pet after traveling for a few days. Thus, upon returning home, you may begin sneezing and suddenly have allergy symptoms to your cat or dog that you previously did not notice. Dr. Qamar suggests speaking with your allergist or physician to find ways to control your symptoms.

The best way to stay healthy during the holiday season is to take care of yourself. Manage your stress, annually update your flu and pneumonia vaccinations, drink enough fluids and be sure to acquire a healthy amount of sleep.

Finally, as a precaution, Dr. Qamar recommends always having a backup set of rescue medications.

To schedule an appointment with your doctor, call 1-800-HenryFord (436-7936) or visit henryford.com. Don’t have a primary care provider? Find one today.

Dr. Shazia Qamar specializes in family medicine and sees patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Chicago Road in Warren.