How do you have happy holidays when you’re dealing with COPD? For many people with COPD or other chronic lung diseases, it can seem difficult to make things merry during this time of year. Research shows that COPD exacerbations tend to increase during the holiday season1. We’ll go over some important COPD holiday strategies to help make sure your holidays are happy and healthy.
Take Care of Yourself
If you use supplemental oxygen or take medications, make sure you have an adequate supply. Remember that holiday closures and inclement weather may make getting additional tanks of oxygen or a trip to the pharmacy challenging, and travel plans can unexpectedly change. Plan ahead if you can!
Wash your hands frequently: before and after eating, when using the restroom, and when touching high-contact surfaces like door handles. Talk to your physician and make sure you’re up-to-date on any doctor-recommended vaccinations, including your flu shot!
Dress for the weather
Cold weather and COPD aren’t a good mix. Extremely cold temperatures can narrow airways, leading to a cascade of events that might increase difficulty breathing, mucus production, coughing, and more2. If outdoor activities are a must, schedule them for warmer times of the day. Continue to monitor air quality before you head outside. While family members may vacation during the holidays, air pollution doesn’t.
Wearing a scarf or mask on your face can help warm up air before you breathe it into your lungs. Stay warm, dress for the weather, and don’t spend time outside if temperatures are low.
Enjoy, but don’t overindulge
Turkey, ham, prime rib, and all those side dishes, beloved holiday desserts and cookies! While an occasional treat or indulgence is fine, eating mostly healthy foods in small portions will help keep your body healthy and happy. Avoid gas-producing foods that might contribute to a bloated feeling and make breathing uncomfortable. If your COPD makes it hard to eat a full meal, dine slowly; take small bites and chew your food thoroughly. Eat more frequent, smaller meals instead of two or three large ones during the day.
If you’ve been prescribed continuous oxygen therapy, make sure you wear your cannula while eating. Eating and digestion both require energy, and your body needs oxygen for that!
Get enough rest
It’s tempting to stay up later than normal or push yourself to attend just one more gathering, but not getting enough sleep or allowing yourself to overdo it can leave you run down and even more susceptible to illness or exacerbations. Make sure you’re getting enough rest, and if you feel fatigued or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to leave an activity or event.
Watch for exacerbation triggers
From baking gingerbread to newly cut Christmas trees, or maybe the freshly-bleached scent of a well-scrubbed house, the holidays bring with them a lot of scents. Even when they’re pleasant, scents can make you cough, wheeze, have more shortness of breath than usual, and increase COPD exacerbations. Know how strong scents affect you, and have a plan to deal with them if necessary.
Wood smoke from stoves and fireplaces can also cause you to cough and have trouble breathing. Burning wrapping paper can release toxic chemicals into the air. If you want a fire lit for some atmosphere, an alternative might be an electronic fireplace, a display of unscented candles, or maybe even a yule log video on television.
Having Happy Holidays with COPD
While living with COPD may require you to make some changes to your holidays, staying healthy and continuing to manage your condition is worth it so there are many more holiday seasons to come! Use these simple strategies to maximize your lung health, make new memories and enjoy the holiday season!
: Johnston NW, McIvor A, Lambert K, et al. The Christmas season as a risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. Can Respir J. 2010;17(6):275-281. doi:10.1155/2010/460532
 D’Amato, M., Molino, A., Calabrese, G. et al. The impact of cold on the respiratory tract and its consequences to respiratory health. Clin Transl Allergy 8, 20 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13601-018-0208-9