Conference Preparation with Asthma

While I’ve been fortunate to attend a few conferences that were focused around asthma and respiratory health that have had some asthma-friendly practices in place, there are still a lot of thoughts tumbling around my head when I attend a conference—whether that’s asthma focused, or something completely different, like coaching or technology, whether it’s in my hometown, or requires travel.

Where possible, I try to get as many details as I can about the event… but sometimes you do just have to wing it and hope for the best. If your conference is hosted by a hotel or convention center, you can sometimes get these details from them if the organization’s conference organizer does not know.

Environment. It’s true that there is a lot that is uncontrollable about the conference environment. People will track in animal dander and even pollens, potentially. These are things that are very hard to control. Antihistamines may have to be your best bet in certain situations, like with allergies, but in others, sometimes proactivity can help. For instance, fragrances are a big issue for me at these events—even, somewhat ironically, at asthma events. Contacting the conference organizers and seeing if they are willing to send a pre-conference note to participants requesting people refrain from wearing fragrances might be one consideration, although it’s not a sure-shot. Sometimes, selecting a different seat (preferably at a break!) is the easiest way to manage this without making your asthma act up.

I don’t have significant allergies, but if I’m going to a major event and will be staying in a hotel for several days, I’ll often start taking long-acting antihistamines a few days before the trip so that my dust allergy doesn’t make my asthma worse. It also helps to combat the effects of any pollen in the area that you may be allergic to and not really know about until you get there.

Recent vacuuming of conference rooms may actually stir up more dust than if they had not been vacuumed in days prior as I’ve learned from the Asthma Society of Canada’s events. If you are staying at a hotel and cannot get an asthma friendly room with hardwood floors, this might be something to inquire with the hotel about. This may also be a consideration for conference or meeting rooms as well.

Food. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, these are often best communicated directly with the catering staff to make arrangements. In one study, 73% of participants indicated that certain foods worsen their asthma symptoms.1 This would indicate that certain foods may impact your asthma, even if you do not perceive that you have an allergy to them—this could be more of a food sensitivity than allergy, and—to protect those with true life threatening allergies—it is important to know and communicate the difference.

With allergies to products like Latex, it can be a good idea to contact both the conference organizer and venue staff to ask about venue decorations like balloons, or how you can work together to ensure food is not cross-contaminated with the foods you should avoid with your Latex allergy, such as bananas or kiwis. If you have an epinephrine auto-injector, always bring it with you.

Staying healthy. Conferences bring together people from many different places. Wash your hands regularly, and try to keep away from anybody that seems visibly sick. Try not to touch your face or eat anything after you’ve shaken hands with a new connection (or an old one!) before washing your hands. My current favorite travel invention is Wet Ones wipes. I’ve used them as a stand-in for a sink at picnic spots, to wipe up spills, and—yes—even to swipe up some dust. My favorite kind are labeled “sensitive skin” and are marked as fragrance-free on the container, as well a the small grab and go packets (which is my go-to for travel).

And of course, if you’re traveling, I’ve shared lots of other travel tips on this site that can definitely be of use at a conference or for business travel as well.

Taking some time to think things through beforehand means that—hopefully—you’ll be able to focus on the conference—networking and learning—rather than your asthma. However, even if your asthma does cause you some trouble, planning ahead will help you deal with any bumps along the way more effectively.

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