A recent trip to a local craft shop took my breath away, literally. As someone with asthma and eczema, the strong smells of spiced and scented decorations triggered both conditions. My throat felt tight, I started coughing, and my face and eyes were itchy. That experience inspired me to write this post. While the holiday season is filled with many wonderful smells– they aren’t always a good thing.

If you have lung disease, well-controlled or otherwise, here are some tips to navigate the holidays:

  • Take your rescue inhaler with you. This should be automatic for you anyway, but it’s especially necessary this time of year. If you’re like me and haven’t had the need for one, be prepared to leave wherever you are if you start to feel symptomatic.
  • If visiting folks you don’t know well or haven’t seen for a while, ask them if anyone smokes or if they have a pet whose dander will cause a reaction. I had to leave a party after only 20 minutes due to a severe reaction to the family cat. Leaving and wheezing was bad enough, but it took a full 24 hours for my lungs to feel recovered. I’ve never been back. If you have chronic lung disease, things that seem negligible to others may cause a reaction severe enough to send you to the ER. Either stay away or use your rescue inhaler before you go and be prepared to leave.
  • Watch your carb intake, including alcohol. I know it’s tough, but carbohydrates increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your body. If you have COPD, you already have issues exhaling CO2 and adding a significant amount will only make you more short of breath.
  • Try eating smaller portions. Filling your stomach will push up your diaphragm and make it more difficult to take a deep breath. I know it’s hard, but it won’t be much fun if you keep reaching for your inhaler or have to turn your oxygen up.
  • If you’re on oxygen, bring enough! Don’t depend on a power source. Things happen, so bring at least enough for your trip to and back. This is especially important for those of you on higher liter flows (above 2lpm).
  • Know your limits. Rest when you need to. Everything will get done. Remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Here’s wishing you a (relatively) full belly, a full set of lungs and a heart filled with peace, gratitude and joy for this holiday season.