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‘Tis the season to wrap our homes in twinkling lights and fill the air with cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and pine. Gatherings with loved ones fill our schedules to the bursting point. While our holiday traditions create heartwarming memories, the fragrances, dust, pets, smoke, even decorations, can pose a threat to children with asthma. However, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), American Lung Association (ALA), and Allergy and Asthma Care offer helpful tips to reduce asthma episodes during the holiday season.
Obtain allergy skin testing. You might be surprised to learn that asthma can begin during the toddler years. “If a child under the age of 3 has had two or more episodes of wheezing, a diagnosis of asthma must be considered,” says Dr. Tammy McCulley of Allergy and Asthma Care. “Allergy skin testing is useful in evaluating an asthmatic child as sensitization to indoor allergens such as mold, dust mites, and pets can occur in infancy and toddlerhood.” Identifying your child’s specific triggers allows you to remove or limit exposure to allergens, which helps reduce the risk of an asthma attack.
Improve indoor air quality. In the absence of allergy skin testing, you can reduce your child’s exposure to common allergens by taking a few simple steps to improve the air quality in your home. For instance, while many of us enjoy holiday-themed candles, potpourris, and air fresheners, the AAFA recommends eliminating these as well as pine-scented sprays and oils. McCulley also says using pillow and mattress covers will reduce dust mites in bedding. Other strategies include regular vacuuming and dusting as well as replacing filters before turning on your heating system for the first time. To minimize mold spores in the air, repair leaks to prevent mold growth, especially in the bathroom.
Allergen sources unique to the holidays include live Christmas trees and greenery that secretly harbor unwanted guests waiting to be dispersed into the air. Mold clings to branches, while pollen rests in crevices. As trees and greenery dry out, dust multiplies, creating even more allergens. McCulley recommends against having Christmas trees or greenery in the home of an allergic asthmatic child. Instead of the traditional trip to pick out the perfect tree, create a new tradition of a family outing to choose a unique set of ornaments representing the year’s memories.
Speaking of Christmas ornaments, what would Christmas be without the excitement of dragging dusty boxes down from the attic? First, grab a wet cloth and carry the boxes outside. Then, remove dusty lids and let allergens fly into the ozone instead of your home. At the end of the season, wet clean again and store decorations in tightly sealed bags or boxes to keep dust out.
Wash your hands. According to the ALA, the most common cause of asthma flare-ups are colds, flu, and sinus infections. Frequent hand washing and avoiding sick individuals are key to reducing your child’s chance of contracting a cold or flu. Talk with your physician about receiving flu shots.
Create a Travel Pack. If travel is planned, create a Travel Pack with copies of your Asthma Action Plan (if you have one), an extra written prescription, insurance cards, healthcare provider information, quick-relief and controller medications, spacer/chamber and peak flow meter. Carry enough medication for a few extra days in the event your trip is extended. Because luggage can get lost, the ALA advises keeping the entire Travel Pack with you while traveling. For a downloadable copy of the Travel Pack, visit lung.org/assets/documents/asthma-checklist.pdf.
Choose accommodations wisely. When booking a hotel room, request a smoke-free room on a non-smoking floor. If staying with family or friends, stay with those who don’t smoke. If, however, a smoker is going to be present, request they smoke outside. Also ask your host ahead of time to avoid burning scented candles, or using air fresheners during your stay. Asking someone to change her habits in her own home can be uncomfortable; just ask politely and explain that these items may trigger your child’s asthma. Most people will be happy to help your child remain symptom-free.
Use caution in the cold. Cold air is an asthma trigger, so when playing outside, have your child wear a scarf over his face to warm and humidify the air. According to the AAFA, you may need to use medication to prevent wheezing. If traveling to warmer areas, realize that hot and humid weather is also a significant trigger.
Navigating the holiday season with asthma can seem daunting at first. However, McCulley assures parents that “there are excellent treatments available to allow parents and their affected children an excellent quality of life.” Once you know what your child’s triggers are, you can help your little one maintain a normal and healthy lifestyle — not only during the holiday season; but for life. • To learn more, visit the American Lung Association (lung.org), Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (aafa.org), and Allergy and Asthma Care Mid-South (allergymemphis).