Causes and Cures for Asthma Flare Ups During the Holidays
By Cassie Weness, RD, LD
November 1, 2016
Have you ever noticed that your asthma flares up more during the holiday season? If you answered yes, you are not alone. Many asthma sufferers report having a harder time in November and December—the same time when holiday parties and cookie exchanges abound. So just when you need your energy and your health to be top notch in order to survive the extra shopping and party-going that the festive season brings, you are down and out with another bad bout of asthma. The good news is people with asthma can enjoy the holidays with good health by understanding what is causing these extra flares.
Asthma is a condition in your lungs that has two main components. First, the muscles surrounding your airways constrict or tighten. Second, the airways become inflamed. Constriction and inflammation cause narrowing of the airways, which can result in difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.
When you have asthma and are exposed to a trigger, the airways to the lungs become more inflamed and constricted than usual, causing your asthma to flare.
Two fairly common contributing factors of asthma are sugar and gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt and Kamut®. The connection to why many people experience more asthma flares during the holidays is that most people tend to consume more goodies during this time of year. Cookies, pumpkin pie, apple crisp, peanut brittle…the treats are everywhere! And most all of these treats are a combination of gluten and too much sugar—the other common trigger for increased constriction and inflammation in the airways of people with asthma.
But the treats are not the only items to be aware of—what you drink has an effect on your asthma as well. It’s easy to unknowingly consume excess sugar from beverages. A mere eight ounces of egg nog contains about eight teaspoons of sugar. And that glass of wine or bottle of beer that you drink at the holiday work party can range from four to eight teaspoons, and that’s if you stop at just one!
Get Through the Holidays “Breathing Easy”
In addition to getting the sugar and the gluten out of your holiday celebrations; it’s important to know what foods can help decrease inflammation in your airways. Fortunately, there are many healthy hors d’oeuvres and snacks that taste great. Try taking some of these to your next holiday party:
- Deli meat roll-ups: spread deli meat with cream cheese; place a pickle in the middle and roll-up
- Organic strawberries dipped in melted dark chocolate (70% cacao or greater)
- A vegetable tray and a delicious, easy, homemade dip called Lil Dipper
- Salmon deviled eggs
Not only do these holiday delights taste great, they also offer nutrients that protect against asthma triggers. The healthy fats in these snacks actually help soothe inflammation and irritation.
One final step to consider for stubborn asthma symptoms is a therapeutic dose of Omega-3 fatty acids. In one small, well-designed clinical study of 29 children with asthma, those who took fish oil supplements for just 10 months reduced their symptoms compared to children who took a placebo.¹ A good fish oil option that we often recommend for kids and adults is OmegAvail. It comes in a delicious liquid flavor which is great for kids and those who don’t like to swallow pills.
Eating real food and getting the sugar and gluten out can help you manage your asthma, no matter how severe it has been in holidays past! These recommendations may seem overwhelming, and you may be anxious about how to put them into practice. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness we are experts at teaching you how to plan meals, grocery shop and prepare meals and snacks that are wholesome for your body and will alleviate your asthma symptoms. If you need direction and a place to start, consider nutrition counseling with one of our nutritionists. It will be the best holiday gift you’ve ever given yourself!
For more information, listen to our radio show: Foods Bad for Asthma/Foods Good for Asthma.
1) Nagakura T, Matsuda S, Shichijyo K, Sugimoto H, Hata K. Dietary supplementation with fish oil rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with bronchial asthma. Eur Resp J. 2000;16(5):861-865.