Holiday Gifts That Can Trigger Asthma

Have you ever received a holiday gift that triggered your asthma? We asked our Health Leaders this question and asked them to tell us a little more about the experience. Check out some of their responses!

Our Health Leader's experiences with asthma triggering holiday gifts

A group gift gone wrong

"Growing up, I was a competitive swimmer. When I was in high school, during our season we would have early-morning practices and have to shower before heading to classes for the day. One year for Christmas, a teammate of mine and my teammate’s mother made a basket of shower and hygiene things to put in our locker room for communal usage. The team was elated to have free shower things, but my lungs didn’t share the same sentiment. The entire basket was filled with scented shower items and highly aromatic body sprays.

I’m sure you can imagine how strongly the locker room areas smelled. Already irritated by the chlorine, my lungs were not having it when I had to start walking through what felt like an aisle of scents. One scented product is feasible in a large enough area, but put 15 scented products together and it starts becoming death-by-fragrance.

High school me was not good at asking for my needs, and I was 'grinning and bearing it' for days. I had an entire strategy down to streamline my own shower and getting ready in the locker room just so I could get away from what felt like a fragrance attack. I alternated breathing through my mouth and my nose to avoid both large gulps of air and getting a significant whiff of the scents. After a couple of days, I started to lose my mojo, and the aromaticity of the locker room began to flare up my cough.

Luckily for me, my swim team was super familiar with the cough. My cough, lovingly dubbed as my 'harp seal call,' was the siren sound for my team to realize something was up with my lungs. Once my teammates caught on, they asked me what was bothering my lungs. Reluctantly, I informed them it was the scented products we had gotten as a team Christmas gift. A collective sigh spread through the locker room, as everyone realized they were going to have to chill on the aggressive fragrances. A compromise was found that made my teammates and my lungs happy – scents in moderation. Plus, it was more fun that each person had a rotation for using the fragrant products!" Corinne

A gift from new co-workers

"...I was working in public health as an asthma educator, and the coworkers in my department understood my triggers and were very considerate. I asked for and received accommodations for my asthma, including a fragrance-free policy. Due to a title change, my cubicle was moved out of my department and into a different section. Coworkers in that section were not familiar with my asthma, its triggers, or the workplace accommodations I had been granted. I was still unpacking my cubicle when a coworker found out it was my birthday.

She wanted to welcome me to the section and say happy birthday with a gift, which was very sweet of her. However, the gift she chose was a cinnamon broom – you know, those brooms you hang on your door during the holidays that have an overwhelming cinnamon smell? They are so difficult for me to be around; I avoid the fresh flower section of grocery stores during the holidays.

After a meeting, I returned to my cubicle and could smell cinnamon. Before I could investigate where the scent was coming from, my coworker walked up with the cinnamon broom and a birthday card in her hands. She had a huge smile on her face, and loudly said, 'Happy birthday!' She handed the gifts to me, and I’m sure my face showed the terror I was feeling.

Terror, over a cinnamon broom? Yes! For many reasons. One, I could tell she was so excited and proud to give me this gift. It was time to bring out my best acting skills and pretend that I liked it and would use it. Or, I had to tell her the truth which is also terrifying. I certainly didn’t want to insult her or make her feel that I wasn’t appreciative. Especially since she gifted me the broom in the middle of the office in front of others. And two, I was terrified the broom would trigger an asthma attack.

All those thoughts were going through my head at the same time. I don’t have a good 'poker face,' and I’m sure my coworker could tell there was a problem. She said, 'Don’t you LOVE it!?' I so badly wanted the courage to say strong holiday scents trigger my asthma, and as much as I appreciate the gesture, I can’t keep it. But I didn’t have the courage to say that and instead pretended like I was thrilled. 'Thank you! This was so thoughtful and kind of you!' is what I actually said.

Once she walked away, I took the cinnamon broom and ran to my car as fast as I could. I wrapped it in a garbage bag and put it in my trunk. My coworker walked by later in the day and asked where the broom was. I shared it was in a bag in my trunk, preserving its fragrance. She smiled. At the end of the workday, I called a friend and gifted her the broom. Luckily, the cinnamon smell did not penetrate my car.

For some reason, I felt obligated to make sure she felt comfortable when giving me the gift. Even though the gift made me physically uncomfortable and triggered my asthma, I was more concerned with seeming ungrateful than taking care of my own health. Have you ever felt the same?" – Lorene

A well-wrapped asthma trigger

"...My sister, who has lived in another state since her college years, consequently, was much less aware, and far removed from my health condition as regards to asthma. One year for the holidays, she put together a fairly generous box of ‘goodies’ for my wife, my 3 children (who were still living at home), and me. We all gathered around (during our holiday celebration) and opened this large box together.

The internal gift wrapping was intricate and ‘complex’ since it was done professionally and prepared for long-distance shipping. I sure hope that I have piqued your curiosity at this point!

Imagine a dozen or so gifts, painstakingly and protectively wrapped, being opened one by one by all of us, closely gathered around this box. The aromas and scents emanating from this box were, essentially, overpowering. As each gift was unwrapped successively and sometimes, simultaneously, the pleasant (but pungent) scents filled the room which for me, was an affront to my senses!

In those days, I was sensitive to so many products, scents, perfumes, and aromas. My allergies would act up and frequently turned into a wheezing asthma episode. This time was no exception! My eyes started watering, my nose filled up and began running, and I felt a familiar and telltale 'tickle' in my throat. While my family continued with the festivities, I discreetly excused myself and left the room.

Once alone I was able to begin to treat the symptoms as I had learned to do over the years. I started by washing my hands and rinsing my face with water. Next, I blew my nose several times. I then administered prescription eye drops in each eye. Finally, I took 2 puffs of my rescue inhaler. I stayed out of the celebration for (fortunately) only 45 minutes. By then, my family had finished the gift unwrapping, disposed of the box and wrapping materials with the overpowering scents, opened the windows, and aired out the room. The scented and odor-offensive gifts were taken outside to the garage.

An hour later, after using my rescue inhaler once more (2 puffs), I was, thankfully, back to normal. The house was 'asthma-friendly' again, and we were able to resume our holiday celebration.

Later on in the week when my sister called to inquire about the gifts, we were remarkably able to have a good laugh! She promised to be more mindful in her gift selection by not sending asthma-trigger types of gifts in the future. She has kept her promise through all the remaining years." – Leon

What holiday gifts can trigger a person's asthma?

Everyone's asthma and their triggers can be different. We want to help share what gifts could be triggering to a person with asthma to help others in the community (those with and without asthma) build awareness. Share your experience with a gift that triggered your asthma (or an asthma-friendly gift idea) by clicking the box below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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