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Managing Your COPD for a Happy and Relaxed Holiday Season
The holidays make the winter so much easier to handle, but when you struggle to breathe easily, your worry, pain, and lack of confidence can prevent you from enjoying all the wonderful things the season has to offer.
Dozens of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) triggers can pop up as you deck the halls, and unfortunately, planning and coordinating celebrations can be more stressful than you had hoped. Fortunately, there are several ways to balance work and rest, protect against the season’s airway irritants, and leave you with enough energy to make it through the holidays with COPD comfortably.
1. Clean Ornaments and Decorations Right Away
When you unpack your Christmas decorations, you may not realize just how much dust they’ve gathered over the last year. Opening the boxes could unleash a cloud of lung irritants, so prepare for the task by taking a puff of your inhaler, wearing a mask to block particles, and wiping each piece down with a soft cloth before you put it on display.
Fresh Christmas trees can also pose some problems for anyone with lung conditions. If you’re keen on a real tree, hose it down as soon as you bring it home to get rid of pollen, mold, and other plant allergens, then let it dry thoroughly in the garage before you bring it inside.
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2. Limit Aromas
Scents of all sorts can be bothersome when your lungs and airways are compromised, and some can cause particularly bad breathing problems. Scented candles are common culprits, and since they’re often scattered around the room for ambience, the artificial aromas can build up to dizzying levels.
If you like the effect of scented candles, feel free to arrange them around the room, but don’t light them. If you’re attending an event at someone else’s house, politely explain your concern about the irritating scents, and they will probably be very happy to replace them with unscented candles. Soy candles are probably the best choice as they burn very clean.
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3. Avoid Wood Fires
The warm crackle of a roaring fire is a holiday motif, but it can be terrible for your breathing. Like scented candles and incense, the aroma of the burning wood can irritate your airways, but the combustion is by far the biggest threat.
Burning wood may seem harmless enough, but the smoke it releases is just as toxic as cigarette smoke — and that can lead right to an exacerbation. A clean chimney flue may not be enough to ward off the effects, so stay out of rooms with open fires.
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4. Stick to Natural Cleaners
More holiday gatherings usually means more frequent cleaning around the house. Since bleach and other harsh cleansers can release irritating chemicals into the air, the COPD triggers can really add up if you’ve upped your cleaning routine.
You don’t have to give up on keeping a clean house just because your lungs are sensitive. Instead, simply switch out your commercial cleaners for homemade solutions that are just as good at cutting grease, lifting dirt, and leaving a sparkle on sinks and faucets. When it comes to cleaning, baking soda, white vinegar and lemons are more powerful than you might imagine.
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5. Get a Flu Shot
COPD exacerbations are most commonly triggered by respiratory infections, and your chances of picking one up will skyrocket when winter weather descends. Make the flu shot a top priority each and every year to protect against major complications.
It’s best to get the flu shot as soon as it becomes available, but it’s never too late to vaccinate. If you can’t find the time to make it into your doctor’s office, visit a local pharmacy — many pharmacies offer the flu shot for free. Since people with COPD are also more prone to contracting pneumonia, experts recommend getting the pneumonia vaccine every five to 10 years.
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6. Bundle up Properly
Cold weather can be physically and mentally exhausting; the more tired you are, the more difficult it is to deal with your symptoms. Staying warm and dry can help you keep up your spirits and your energy, so dress wisely before heading outdoors.
Dressing in layers is always a good idea, but the type of layers you choose can make a difference. Cotton may seem light and airy, but it traps sweat, which can leave your skin wet and clammy. Invest in a couple of merino wool base layers for the winter, which are thick enough to allow easy movement but will keep you very warm and dry.
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7. Rely on Other Drivers
Walking long distances in the cold, damp or snowy weather can spell trouble for your lungs, and driving yourself around the slippery streets can be stressful. Instead, count on others whenever possible; have friends or family do the driving, and ask to be dropped off close to the door of any building rather than navigate the parking lot by foot.
If you’re driving yourself to a holiday gathering, ask another guest at the party if they would be willing to valet your car. Try not to be embarrassed or reluctant to ask for help — most people are very willing to help out others in any way they can, especially when they’re feeling the holiday spirit.
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8. Learn to Say No
Overextending yourself is the quickest way to an exacerbation. Committing to every task and event will leave you stressed and fatigued, and there’s a good chance you’re COPD management plan will get buried in the excitement.
It can be difficult at first, but learning to gracefully refuse favors or requests will help you keep your sanity and health in check. It’s not rude to turn down people when you already have a full plate, and if they take it the wrong way, gently explain what your decision means for your health. COPD and alcohol don't mix well, so you may often find yourself turning people down for drinks.
Good preparation means you’ll free yourself up to enjoy the holidays rather than struggle through them. You owe it to yourself to be happy and interactive during holiday gatherings, and you should always do your best to make this holiday season your best one yet.