Staying (Lung) Safe this Holiday Season
My husband and I recently picked up holiday decorations. One thing that I love to hate is candles. If they have scents or smoke they aren't allowed in my house. I can't handle them, no matter how gorgeous. I have to be very careful around roasting chestnuts on an open fire because all fires are smokey! We tried this once and I had one very apologetic husband, lol.
It really isn't funny anymore because after so many years with lung cancer and COPD anything that sets my lungs to swelling hurts a lot.
I am very careful of wearing masks, getting any vaccines I need. To stay healthy, I wash my hands, or use a sanitizer. I make sure that all of my medications are filled as much as they can be, especially my inhalers!
The holidays can be one of the most wonderful times of the year, With some planning and care, we can do our best to protect others and ourselves.
It has been an honor to be your mentor. I want to take this time to wish you and your families a healthy holiday and new year!
I know that I have missed some helpful hints to stay safe this year. It would be a wonderful gift to share what you do!
The knowledge exchange shared in this discussion helped to create this article written for the Mayo Clinic app and website. Knowledge for patients by patients and beyond Mayo Clinic Connect.
– How patients with lung conditions avoid winter irritants https://www.mayoclinic.org/connected-care/how-patients-with-lung-conditions-avoid-winter-irritants/cpt-20525811
Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Lung Cancer Support Group.
Merry, I am with you on this. With allergic asthma and reactive lungs, I can easily find myself in trouble when my lungs are kicking out phlegm in response to exposure to something with fragrance or smoke. A recent problem was a loaner car from having service at a car dealer. I think in cleaning it, they must be using carpet powder because there is a fragrance in it or some one could have previously smoked in it. I drove it home for 20 minutes, and I was in trouble in an hour just trying to breathe. It took about 5 hours to recover from that and I was exhausted. I still need to drive the loaner car, and I wear a respirator to do that. That's kind of weird, but it works and I don't worry about what other people think.
Fragrance from candles and holiday scents for plug in devices and air freshener scents in rest rooms are difficult deal with. I try to minimize my exposure to stuff like that because I can't stop my lungs from shutting down. I also like to keep a jar of something like Vicks with me because the eucalyptus vapors open up airways. The same vapors in cough drops do this too and they help and then sometimes I won't need the inhaler. I try to always have my inhalers at the ready. I keep hand sanitizer in the car, so every time I come back to the car, I use it. I got my Covid vaccinations, and wear a K 95 mask in stores. I always try to make my shopping stops pretty brief and avoid aisles with fragrance containing products or those scented pine cones right at the door with the Christmas wreaths. I have also taken a respirator with me when I went to see a local production of the Nutcracker and waited until it was dark to put it on, and then wrapped a scarf around my face to hide it. That was pre- Covid pandemic, and at least now, it is more acceptable to wear a mask in public, and I no longer feel self conscious about it.
One thing that I forgot was stress. And believe it or not, forgetting to breathe! Sometimes when I am carrying laundry upstairs I start to think about something else and just don't breathe or breathe poorly. By the time that I reach the top landing, I'm huffing and puffing like I ran a race. I'm always ahead of myself. This is why the value of mindfulness is so valuable.
Wow – the more I read, the more I see myself – and my family. We were raised in the "old" Catholic church, where incense was a frequent component of the services. Often in the car on the way home, 2 or 3 of us would be hacking and wheezing, and noone ever knew why. Now as older adults, with children and grandchildren, we know it is allergic asthma & hyperreactive lungs. Our small community in Texas has banned fragrances in the clubhouse and lounge so more people can participate – so it is more common than anyone realizes.
What a great matter to bring up!
@merpreb @sueinmn @jenniferhunter, the Mayo Clinic writing team is working on an article about lung health loosely based on the experiences you shared here. I'd also like to invite @chicagomichelle @pfists and others to join the conversation.
What does it feels like when you encounter some of the scenarios described above, like sitting next to someone with strong perfume or walking past a display of fragrant evergreen trees or wreaths? What do you wish people around you understood how this affects you so they could help?
@colleenyoung Oh my gosh. My lungs are so reactive to fragrances. Man made fragrances travel in the air because of chemicals like phalates that cause their dispersal and it may partly be these chemicals that are causing serious asthma reactions. It takes only minutes of exposure to cologne when my airway starts to swell and my lungs start kicking out a lot phlegm. I get very tired and get a severe headache because my oxygen levels are dropping. I can't think clearly and I feel like I'm drowning. I start struggling to breathe and begin to try to get more air by accessory breathing which elevates the first ribs. That causes other problems because I used my neck muscles to pull the ribs upward and it aggravates my thoracic outlet syndrome condition and it gets stuck there causing a spasm with chest and neck pain. When my asthma is bad enough, I can't stay awake long enough to use an inhaler to try to save myself. Even if the exposure was only for a few minutes, and I have removed myself from the area, in about an hour, I am going to have a buildup of phlegm in my lungs and will still go through the symptoms of excessive fatigue and a bad headache. It may take me several hours to clear the phlegm buildup and recover after an event like this before I can breathe normally again and the headache subsides.
At home, I do not use cleaning products or soaps with heavy fragrances. Even exposure to other people wearing clothing that was washed in a heavy fragrance laundry detergent causes breathing problems for me if I can't get away from it. The natural fragrances used in dish soap does not bother me.
Natural fragrances are not as bad for me. I do know that I am allergic to pine terpenes that create the pine smell. I can walk past holiday wreaths without having an adverse event if I don't linger. Natural boughs will also harbor other allergens like mold spores or dust so I resist the urge to smell them because those would also trigger my allergic asthma. If I was inside a home with a real Christmas tree, I would have a headache and some breathing issues. Then there are scented candles and stuff squirting scents into the air. I cannot stay in an environment like that because I will be headed for an asthma attack.
I avoid stores with fragrance counters. The laundry detergent aisles are a big problem. I hold my breath as I walk past them. Hardware stores aisles with fertilizer and weed & insect killers also trigger my asthma. I try to get in and out of stores like that as fast as possible.
I wish people could understand what it is like to experience a serious problem caused by fragrances on other people and in public spaces. They have a misconception about the consequences of their habits and think it is harmless. In reality it is toxic, and some individuals are so sensitive to it that is causes a serious reaction. I also find that exposure to fragrances in public causes the scent to be absorbed into my clothing, and I have to change clothes to get rid of it so I can stop reacting to it. So I carry this problem around with me until I can get home to change.
We also had these other discussions regarding fragrances and lung health.
My main reaction is a wheezy cough, followed choking. If I get away quickly, and use my inhaler, I can sometimes short circuit a full asthma attack. The aftermath can be anything from a headache to days of nabbing to recover to a case of bronchitis. My biggest problems are cats, incense, air fresheners, detergents and softeners.
I wish people could understand that I didn't ask to be allergic to their favorite aroma and I'm not criticizing them, just trying to breathe.
Hello – I have lung disease and chronic sinusitis. I too have a strong reaction to perfumes, scented candles, air fresheners, etc. but evergreen trees don't seem to be a problem for me. I wonder if its some chemical in perfume that is a problem for many? I really dislike when someone who sprays perfume and/or cologne on themselves and their clothes before they go out. That is the worst. When I'm exposed, unless I can remove myself immediately, I will have sinus drainage and severe coughing. I have to use my inhaler but still continue to cough. I also don't understand those who don't take my word for my intolerance to perfume etc. . Most of my friends, family, are very good about it, but some just don't get it. Its very hard to ride in a car with someone wearing perfume. I certainly appreciate those close to me who understand my problem with scents and avoid it. Thank you Colleen for the opportunity to hear others experiences also. Donna
Same here, Donna! I cannot tolerate fabricated smells like air fresheners either. I have a story. My grandfather and his lady friend were excited to get invited to a wine tasting, having never done this before. They both got dressed in the best outfits, including the finishing touch of perfume and cologne. Imagine their disappointment when the event organizers had to turn them away at the door explaining that the perfumes would interfere with the wine tasting.
Well, I've turned by grandfathers disappointment into a positive for me. When we host a dinner party, I ask guests not to wear perfumes or fragrant soaps promising wines that don't mix well with strong scents. So far it has worked 🙂
Are you able to ask friends not to wear perfumes when in close quarters with you, like coming to dinner or riding in the car?
Great story and a novel way to ask people not to wear perfume or scents! For me, it’s been very obvious the struggles I have with scents and most of my close friends and family do not wear any scents when they are with me. I have one though, that always seems to forget ?! I make sure never to ride in a car together if possible with that one.
Interesting! I have often had the impression that I forget to breathe and that is why I have shortness of breath. Are there exercises or something?