Deck The Halls But Watch The Dust

Kristine Whorlow warns of hidden festive-season asthma triggers.

It’s time to drag out the Christmas decorations, put up the tree and get into the spirit of the festive season, but people with asthma can find themselves short of breath during the holiday season for a range of reasons, starting with the humble Christmas party itself.

Australians traditionally celebrate outdoors at this time of the year to make the most of the sunshine and open spaces, but for people with asthma or other allergies, outdoor parties can be problematic. At this time of year there is extra pollen in the air – a major trigger of asthma and hay fever that could potentially dampen the spirits of even the merriest reveller.

Digging the Christmas decorations out from the back of the garage or under the bed and shaking out last year’s tinsel and lights can stir up 12 months’ worth of accumulated dust. And soft decorations such as felt stockings and soft toys can attract dust mites whose droppings are the most common allergen trigger for asthma in Australia.

Artificial Christmas trees may be another trap. They can accumulate dust and even mould – another common asthma trigger – depending on how they have been stored, particularly during the damp winter months. Vacuum or wipe down your artificial tree and all your decorations as you get them out of the box, unpacking them outside if possible.

Other silly-season asthma triggers centre around the jolliness of the season itself. Christmas celebrations can result in a more relaxed approach to many things, including your asthma-action plan. If someone in your family has asthma, it’s important to ensure that they take their prescribed medication and avoid their asthma triggers as much as possible. They should also continue to follow their personal written asthma-action plan developed with their doctor.

Particularly at this time of the year, make sure that any medication required by your family is always carried with you and taken as advised by your doctor, even if you are out at parties or away on holidays.

Further Information


  • Outdoor Parties
    The party in the park or Christmas picnic could spell trouble for people with asthma, as there can be a lot of pollen floating around, particularly on windy days, which can trigger asthma and hay fever.
  • Trees
    Artificial trees can be a major dust trap and can also accumulate mould. Before assembling an artificial tree, wipe it down with a damp cloth or an electrostatic duster. Natural trees are less likely to trigger asthma, but they can still be a source of mould and dust. Give a natural tree a good spray with water and let it dry in the sun before taking it indoors.
  • Decorations
    Ideally, unpack last year’s decorations outside and clean them before use. If you have soft decorations, such as soft toys or felt stockings, put them in the freezer overnight before use, to kill dust mites. Prevent the build-up of dust in subsequent years by sealing your ornaments in plastic bags and storing them in airtight containers.
  • Scented Candles
    Scented candles are popular Christmas gifts and decorations. Unfortunately, for some people with asthma, the perfume in scented candles might trigger symptoms. So keep them away from any family members who might be affected, and ensure that they keep taking their medication.
  • Emotions
    ’Tis the season to be jolly, but Christmas can also be the season for added pressures and stress. Stress and anxiety can trigger asthma, as can intense emotional reactions such as yelling, crying and laughing.