2003-12-19 / Community

Holiday Stress May be Asthma Trigger

Holiday Stress May be Asthma Trigger

Nathan Rothman, MDNathan Rothman, MD

Do the holidays overwhelm you? With the joy and good cheer of the holidays, the traditions, and family gatherings, sometimes the holiday season also brings great stress. For people with asthma, the stress and anxiety may bring illness and actually trigger an attack.

"When you are juggling holiday work schedules, trying to attend numerous parties, doing last minute shopping or making travel arrangements, you may pay less attention to your asthma," said Nathan Rothman, MD, Chief of Pulmonary Medicine at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, South Shore. "Stress can be a very real factor when managing asthma."

An asthma trigger is any substance or condition in the environment that may result in a reaction in the respiratory system, thus "triggering" an attack. Those who live with asthma are sensitive to these triggers, which may vary from person to person. Stress is one such trigger. Additional stress and strong emotions can make asthma symptoms worse. During stressful situations, people with asthma can become extremely short of breath even though their airways are not blocked. This happens because chemicals released by the body during times of stress can lead to tightening of the muscles around the air passages in the lungs, narrowing the air tubes, thus making it difficult to breathe.

Stress may also make it more difficult for asthma sufferers to manage their condition. At times of stress, one is more apt to forget to take medications, do peak flow readings, and the other things needed to stay on top of your asthma action plan. Breathing in cold air and influenza are also significant stress factors for those with bronchial asthma.

Research indicates that stress can lower your immune system’s ability to fight pathogens. Research has also shown that depression is more likely to occur at this time of the year. Dr. Rothman suggests that asthmatics try these coping tips, particularly during the holidays:

Simply wearing a scarf over one’s mouth to warm the air can help to protect the asthma sufferer from an attack.

Remember to get a flu shot.

Avoid stressful situations by practicing effective time-management skills. Set priorities and don’t take on more than you can handle. Pace yourself and set limits to help manage your time.

Practice relaxation techniques. Make yourself a priority and be sure to take time out to relax. Learn yoga or meditation and practice deep breathing exercises.

Eat well-balanced nutritious meals and drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.

Make sure to get plenty of sleep.

Remember to take your medications.

For more information about controlling your asthma or to make an appointment with Dr. Rothman, please call St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Ambulatory Care Center.

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