Looking a gift horse in the mouth: On receiving asthma un-friendly gifts.

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth: On Receiving Asthma Un-friendly Gifts

When I worked in a daycare, the parents of the children we cared for would often bring us thoughtful gifts at predictable or random times throughout the year—my boss and coworkers were much the same. Whether you’re in a lucky workplace like I was, or whether it’s your birthday or holiday gift season, sometimes, when you have asthma, there can be a bit of dread associated with the process.

Giving thoughtful asthma gifts

Gift cards, chocolate (given that I have no food allergies!), and notebooks, pens, and sticky notes were all welcome surprises. However, no matter how much we appreciate simply being thought of in certain situations, those of us with asthma do sometimes have to feign some excitement when certain gifts are unwrapped.

Sometimes, no matter how well-intentioned the gift giver is, their act of kindness simply doesn’t jive with my asthma. There is a time to educate, and a time to simply smile, thank them, and take the gift home to figure out.

Unfit asthma gifts

Most of these items that are not a good fit for my asthma come in the form of scented (fragrant) body products. Bath & Body Works is kind of all the rage, and even before I had asthma, these kinds of things triggered an almost instant and sometimes severe headache in me (which sucks to deal with in high school, let me tell ya).

Body care items

Fortunately, things in this category—liquid hand soaps, “fun” scented hand sanitizers, and other body products like lotions (and even nail polish) are pretty easy to deal with. Often, we’d stick them on a shelf and add them on to a birthday gift that we’d like to give someone just a bit more for—so they ended up getting a lot more than usual, but we knew they’d actually enjoy the products.

My favorite solution, though, is to send these still-sealed products off to our local Christmas hamper group—usually, you can simply drop them in with the donations that go to the food bank that puts these packages together, but some organizations have separate donation procedures for gifts.

At other times of the year, a homeless shelter or women’s shelter will likely graciously accept your donated, unopened body products. That way, a gift that I am not able to use is given to someone who likely does not often receive such items—and probably really appreciates having something special to try.

This is also a great option for hand sanitizers or soaps, as they can be distributed by shelters to people who need them—no matter what time of year. Pay it forward—you can also always drop off some fragrance-free products with your donation for people who might have the same sort of needs that some of us with asthma do.


Candles were another oft received gift (I personally do not understand the lure of candles, even independent of my asthma—and with my asthma, why wouldn’t I just get those lightbulb ones, but that is beside the point). I know a few people who enjoy candles, so, sometimes I could just pass them on. I think I still have one sealed in its plastic wrapping, beside the stereo in my room because it looks cool, even if I can’t/won't burn it. Once again, though—say thank you, and find a way to pay it forward. It’s about the spirit of giving, after all!

Educating: Based on the closeness of the gift giver

Now, beyond casual gifts, if the gift giver is in your close family, or a good friend, it’s probably best to do some educating. I’d still follow the same advice above, and then in a day or two, talk to them and let them know that you appreciate their gift, but that because of your asthma, it’s not something you can use.

Ask if they have a gift receipt, and if they do, ask if they’d like to return it and pick something else out for you, or if they’d like you to do it. If they don’t, find out what they’d rather do—they may simply have someone else in mind they can give it to down the road, or have a friend who really likes the same thing who will buy it from them. There is some risk of upsetting your loved one, but, if you self-advocate with kindness, they’ll hopefully get it—and, hopefully, remember for the next occasion!

What are some asthma unfriendly asthma gifts you’ve received, and what tips do you have for dealing with these sorts of surprises?

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