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Posted on: December 03, 2018

If you have asthma and/or allergies, you might be a little hesitant to fully engage in all the holiday cheer. While family and friends are out merrymaking, you must wonder, will scented candles or the smell of pine from a Christmas tree trigger your asthma or allergies? Or if you have food allergies, are there seasonal foods you should avoid?

In this article, we explore all elements of the holidays. Whether you have allergies, asthma, or both, we hope these tips will help you safely enjoy this time of the year.

Scented Candles

The holidays are tied with certain scents like pine, baking cookies, holly leaves and seasonal berries. If you can’t make all these scents happen in real life, then you might thing a scented candle is the next best thing.

Unfortunately, scented candles can lead to asthma attacks, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or AAAAI. It’s even possible for a person with allergies to be agitated by the smell of candles.

If you or a loved one deal with allergies and/or asthma related to scented candles, then follow these steps to enjoy a happy and fragrant holiday season:

  • Think about making the switch to unscented candles. These are a visually appealing alternative to create ambiance without any scents.
  • If you must, use scented candles very sparingly. Always light them in well-ventilated areas. This way, the smell of the candle isn’t as prevalent. That may make it less likely for the candle to start an asthma or allergy attack.
  • Never light candles in the bedroom of an allergy and/or asthma sufferer. The prolonged exposure can disrupt sleep and worsen symptoms.
  • Similarly, do not light a candle at the dinner table.

Seasonal Foods

Holiday eating can be a huge risk for food allergy sufferers. From holiday side dishes to mystery cookies served at holiday parties, the food may look delicious, but is it worth eating?

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or ACAAI, it pays to be careful. Here are some tips for navigating holiday meals:

  • Always ask what’s in a dish before you eat it! For instance, you might think you know all the ingredients, but you can never be truly certain what’s in it if it’s homemade.
  • Bring an injectable epinephrine with you and keep it on your person during all holiday eating events.

Real Christmas Trees

If you celebrate Christmas, then no decorating is complete without the home’s centerpiece: the Christmas tree. If you and your loved ones can’t get enough of the real thing, you could be inviting allergens into your home and your life, says the ACAAI.

There’s both the tree sap’s terpene, dust and mold to worry about triggering an allergy attack. The strong evergreen smell can also be problematic. It’s best to safeguard yourself in these ways:

  • If you must have a real tree, then double check it’s as clean as possible. Shake off prior to placing in the home. An air compressor can be helpful for blowing out debris.
  • The same goes if you have any wreaths or boughs made of real pine. These too could lead to allergy symptoms. Try to limit the amount of days the greenery is in the home.
  • An air purifier in the same room as the tree can help reduce mold levels.
  • Consider buying an artificial Christmas tree. Even if you do get one, you must be diligent about cleaning the tree of all dust before setting it up. Wear a mask when getting it out of storage.
  • Remember to clean ornaments too. Fabric ornaments are harder to clean than plastic or glass. Store in plastic boxes rather than cardboard which can harbor mold.

Cold Weather

Caroling, ice skating, making snowmen…there are so many wintry activities to do around the holidays. Your lungs prefer for air to be warm and humidified (the job of your nose!). Cold, dry winter air can make breathing harder for some asthma patients.

If you have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, notes AAAAI, then outdoor wintertime activities could leave you symptomatic. You may have shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness and wheezing after about five minutes in the cold. If not, then the symptoms typically manifest within 20 minutes. You may even experience chest pain, which is serious and necessitates emergency medical care.

Here’s how you can avoid pain and discomfort from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction this winter:

  • Cut back on your time outside.
  • Ask your loved ones to move certain activities inside. This may not always be possible, but it’s worth trying.
  • Avoid overexerting yourself outside, if possible. If you stick to light activity, you may not have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction symptoms.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when outside.


Few things bring on holiday cheer more than a roaring fire on a cold winter day. Unfortunately, breathing in smoky air can lead to shortness of breath for those with asthma. Here are some recommendations from the ACAAI for easier breathing:

  • Minimize your time around fireplaces, fire pits or bonfires if you can help it. The smoke could lead to wheezing and other lung discomfort. Make an effort to not be downwind if outside.
  • Electric fireplaces can be a great alternative for creating that perfect holiday setting. These mimic the look and sounds of a real fire without any of the smoke or odors.

How Carolina Asthma & Allergy Can Help You Navigate the Holidays

We want you to enjoy the holiday season and its myriad of activities this year, so please reach out to us at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center. We’re a Charlotte-based medical center that offers treatment and management of both allergies and asthma. Whether you have common allergies or more uncommon ones like latex sensitivity, sinus disease, insect allergies and even certain drug and food allergies, we’re here to help.

We have offices across North Carolina and one in South Carolina, so you can set up an appointment at a location most convenient to you. Contact us to book your appointment today. We look forward to hearing from you. Happy Holidays!