The winter months can be a challenging time for Canadians with asthma, especially with having to navigate all the seasonal asthma triggers that pop up this time of year. That’s why we’ve gathered some tips to help you manage your asthma and stay healthy this holiday season.

Know Your Winter Triggers

For many members of our community, the winter months bring with them a whole host of asthma triggers that can worsen asthma symptoms and even lead to an attack. Some common winter asthma triggers include:

  • Cold Air
  • Viral Infections (Cold & Flu)
  • Dust Mites
  • Mould & Damp
  • Wood Smoke
  • Scented Products (Candles & Cleaning Products)

Tips to be Winter Ready:

Quick Tips:

  • Take your controller medication as prescribed
  • Always carry your reliever medication with you wherever you go. If cold air triggers your asthma, consider taking your reliever medication 10-15 minutes before heading out into the cold
  • Follow your Asthma Action Plan
  • Dress for the weather – check weather conditions before going outside. Stay warm, bundle up with a hat, gloves/mittens, and appropriate clothing for the temperature
  • Wear a scarf or face covering around your nose and mouth to keep the air you breathe warm and moist
  • Avoid outdoor exercise as must as possible, but especially in cold weather
  • Stock up on your prescribed asthma medications and take note of pharmacy and healthcare centre holiday closures in your area
  • Have an annual asthma check-up appointment with your healthcare provider – many are offering phone or virtual appointments
  • Protect yourself and those around you by getting recommended immunizations against the flu and pneumonia
  • Avoid having a real holiday tree in the house if you find it triggers your symptoms
  • If you do have a real holiday tree, keep in mind that most trees are cut in October and then stored which can cause mould and dust to build up. Try hosing the tree down with water and letting it dry, or using a leaf-blower to dislodge irritants before bringing the tree inside. Have someone else in your home do this if dust or mould trigger your asthma
  • If you find your home is damp consider using a dehumidifier
  • Reduce allergens by vacuuming your artificial holiday tree and dusting lights and ornaments when unpacking them from storage
  • Keep in mind that poinsettias, holly and mistletoe plants may contain dust mites or mold, so avoid them if you can.
  • Avoid using scented products like candles, scented cleaning supplies or laundry products.
  • Avoid open fires and wood burning stoves. All smoke can be an asthma trigger, including wood smoke.

Take your medications as prescribed:

Continue taking your controller medication as prescribed by your healthcare provider to keep your asthma under control and decrease your chances of having flare-ups. Your controller medication works by treating the underlying inflammation in your airways and should be taken daily. You will know that the controller medication is working because you will, over time, have fewer and fewer symptoms.

Carry your reliever (rescue) inhaler everywhere:

It’s important to carry your reliever medication with you at all times. If it’s a particularly cold day and cold air is one of your triggers, consider taking your medication 10-15 minutes before exposure to cold air.

Your reliever medication provides fast but temporary relief of asthma symptoms and should be used in case of emergencies. Relievers are only a short-term solution to your breathing problem as they treat the acute symptoms but do not treat the underlying airway inflammation. Keep track of how often you are relying on your rescue inhaler — if you need to take it more than three times per week, your asthma is not well controlled and you should speak with your doctor. You can take this short quiz to see if you overly reliant on your reliver medicaiton.

Follow your asthma action plan:

An Asthma Action Plan allows you and your healthcare provider to create a personalized program for managing your asthma. You can use it as a strategy to identify when your asthma may be flaring up and how to manage your asthma when it gets out of control. An Asthma Action Plan helps you stay on top of your asthma at home. If you don’t currently have an Asthma Action Plan you can download one here.

Dress for the weather:

Check the weather & temperature before going out and dress for the weather conditions. Stay warm, wear your hat, gloves, mittens and appropriate clothing for the temperature. Wear a scarf or face covering around your nose and mouth to help keep the air you breathe warm and moist.

Protect yourself from viral infections:

Winter is cold and flu season, which can both act as asthma triggers and exacerbate symptoms. Be ready for the season by getting your recommended annual vaccinations against influenza and pnuemococcal disease. Also remember to wash your hands frequently, and follow all guidelines when it comes to managing your asthma during COVID-19.

Have an Asthma Check-Up

You should have at least one annual asthma check in with your healthcare provider to discuss your asthma control, update your Asthma Action Plan, check your inhaler technique and make sure you’re on the right treatment plan. If you haven’t yet, consider contacting your healthcare provider to check in on your asthma management.

It may be harder to get an appointment with your healthcare provider this year due to the pandemic, but most doctor’s offices are offering phone or virtual appointments. Contact your healthcare provider to see what options are available to you.

 A note on holiday trees:

For some Canadians with asthma having a real holiday tree in the house can be a serious asthma trigger. If a real tree bothers your asthma, avoid one altogether, instead consider using an artificial tree.

If a real tree doesn’t trigger your symptoms keep in mind that most trees are cut in October and then stored which can cause mould and dust to build up. Try hosing the tree down with water and letting it dry, or using a leaf-blower to dislodge irritants before bringing the tree inside. Have someone else in your home do this if dust or mould trigger your asthma.

Also, wear gloves and a long sleeved shirt if you’re handling a real tree to keep sap away from your skin. You can also minimize exposure by keeping a real tree in a cooler, less-trafficked area of your home, like a screened front porch.

Artificial trees aren’t without triggers themselves. When unpacking your holiday decorations and setting up your tree you can reduce allergens by vacuuming your artificial holiday tree and dusting lights and ornaments.

The winter months can be a tough time for people with asthma. If you are able, please also consider making a kind donation to support our mission. Your support is vital to ensuring that we can continue providing asthma education and support programs to help keep people with asthma healthy this holiday.