Mix together a Christmas tree, decorations pulled out of dusty storage; perhaps a new kitten or puppy, plus dry heat in the house from cold temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for “Holiday Asthma.” Those are just a few of the things that can trigger a child’s asthma attack.
“Each individual‘s asthma triggers differ,” says Kristy Miller, a spokesperson for the Environment Protection Agency. "However, from an indoor environmental perspective, the primary asthma triggers include secondhand smoke, pet dander, mold, dust mites, and pest droppings. During the winter months, many people spend more time indoors, so steps should be taken to reduce or eliminate exposures to these environmental asthma triggers."
How you can you help your child avoid these common holiday triggers? We found helpful information when WebMD turned to an expert for advice.
One dangerous trigger is respiratory infection. Respiratory infections are rampant during the winter months, particularly during the holidays, when families travel around the country, with millions of other sneezing and coughing merry-makers.
“Asthma flair-ups are frequently due to infections,” says Richard Honsinger, MD, of the Los Alamos Medical Care Clinic. “And during the holidays, we see an increased number of respiratory infections with all the traveling and with people sharing their bugs that cause asthma symptoms to worsen.”
How can you avoid these harmful infections? One solution is to avoid traveling during one of the most contagious times of the year. The other is to make sure that your child and other family members properly wash their hands. That may sound too simple, but a good scrubbing with warm water and soap for at least 15 seconds--can reduce the number of germs your kids pick up over the course of the day, which in turn helps lowers the risk of catching a cold and triggering asthma.
Many families have switched from using real trees to artificial Christmas trees for convenience and to avoid allergies. However, the actual culprit may be the decorations.
“People get all their ornaments out of their basements and closets and they’re covered in dust,” Honsinger says.
The Christmas tree all lit up with warm lights and decorated with old bulbs is a perfect recipe for asthma trouble in kids, so wipe it down with a damp cloth before you set it up in the middle of your living room to remove outdoor allergens. Before you drag your holiday storage containers out of the basement, give them a good dusting so they’re free of mites, pest droppings and other unpleasant holiday treats, and wash decorations before you put them on the tree.
Roaring fireplaces not only provide a traditional backdrop for the holidays, but also come in handy for warming the house. Unfortunately, fireplaces can trigger asthma.
“Fireplaces and stoves and things that leak smoke are things that increase the asthma response,” says Honsinger. “It’s not a true allergy--you can’t test for smoke allergies on the skin--but we know that particulate matter or burning material in the air causes an increase in asthma symptoms.”
Particulate matter can also mean exhaust and cigarette smoke, explains Honsinger. So before you set off to visit family members or friends that smoke, remember to pack your child’s medicine – and be prepared to head home early if asthma symptoms flare up.
Then there is the new kitty or puppy issue. Giving your child a puppy or kitten for Christmas sounds like an enchanting idea, but don’t forget that that adorable little bundle is covered in dander--a common asthma trigger.
“Parents get their kids a new dog for Christmas, when they don’t know if the kids are allergic or not,” says Honsinger, who is a professor of clinical medicine at the University of New Mexico. “It’s a time of year when its cold, so pets are indoors more often than not, so their dander is inside as well and we see an influx of pet allergies and asthma symptoms.”
If your child has asthma, eczema or other allergies, it’s probably a good idea to have him or her skin tested for animal allergies -before you start picking out a puppy or kitten name.
During the winter months, cold air is something most people aren’t going to be to able to avoid unless you live in a warm region of the world and even then- surprises happen.
“We know that breathing cold, dry air will increase asthma symptoms,” says Honsinger. “It excites the receptors in the lung causing asthma to come on quickly.”
Cold air dries the lungs out, and makes the chest tighten, explains Honsinger. Warm, moist air, however, is just what a kid with asthma needs.
“During cold weather have your child wear a scarf when he’s outside,” says Honsinger. ”They breath through the cloth and it catches moisture. Then they breath back in through it and it warms the air and makes the air moist. Then they’re less likely to get that feeling of tightness.”
To be on the safe side, if your child is playing outside, monitor her peak flow every hour or so.
“Use a peak flow meter so you can see how fast your child’s air is coming out,” says Honsinger. “Use a set of guidelines that you set up with your physician, so if the peak flow drops below a certain level, use medicine. If it drops further, you better seek help. It’s something to watch.”
Because pharmacies and pediatricians may have irregular hours during the holidays, be prepared in advance. “If your child has asthma, have your medicine supply intact over the holidays when everything closes down,” says Honsinger. “If your child uses an inhaler or a nebulizer, make sure you have these on hand, so if asthma symptoms flare up in the middle of Christmas, you have something at home to start treatment right away.”
If your child doesn’t respond to available treatment, take him or her to the emergency room. Asthma isn’t something you want to let get the upper hand.
By applying some of these tips, your child may be able to escape “Holiday asthma!”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Kids Doctor!
Story source: Heather Hatfield, https://www.webmd.com/asthma/features/holiday-asthma-triggers-for-kids#1