How to Avoid Common Holiday Asthma Triggers

by Sloane Miller Patient Advocate

Holidays are here and with the holidays come some staples: parties, drinking and fruitcake. If you have asthma, there are some holiday pitfalls to keep in mind like parties, drinking and maybe even fruitcake. So before you reach for that puff on a celebratory cigar, that second glass of Glögg, or a slice of panettone let's talk about possible holiday asthma triggers that may have flown under your radar. (The Asthma Allergy Foundation of America in partnership with Merck came up with a site all about asthma myths, which helps to spell out some of those triggers. )

Parties are not an asthma trigger by themselves; however, holiday office parties can be trouble for those of us with asthma. First, when people start drinking, they almost inevitably start smoking. Even though in many cities smoking is banned in public spaces like restaurants and offices, I've seen private parties in back rooms become smoked out. If you didn't already know: "Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can increase asthma symptoms in adults and children. Nonsmoking adults with asthma should try to avoid secondhand smoke at work or while traveling; these are common settings for exposure."

So do your best to stay away from the smokers at the party; it will inevitably exacerbate your asthma being around them. And don't indulge yourself -- that won't help your lungs either.

Didn't know that wine, beer and champagne contain sulfites (it acts as a preservative)? The sulfites in wine and champagne (less so beer) can trigger an asthmatic response for those very sensitive asthmatics. So beware.

Another reason to stay away from the vino during the holidays: wine and champagne (which is wine remember, just with bubbles) is typically higher in natural histamine levels, which can cause allergic responses.

Thinking about egg nog as an allergy friendly alternative? Think again. Egg, cream and liquor for someone with food allergies or lactose intolerance will mean the end of the party.

Mixed drinks are really your thing? Keep an eye out as egg whites to make drinks frothy and pretty is the latest retro-craze in mixology. If you have an egg allergy, beware.

If you want to join in the drinking fun, consider a cleaner liquor like vodka (which is highly distilled) or a rice based wine, like sake.

Or keep it booze-free with a soft drink and a pretty umbrella.

So you're staying away from the wine because of the sulfites and you reach for a slice of panettone or fruitcake instead. You might want to hold off as sulfites might rear their preservative-heads again in the form of dried fruit.

Common Sulfite Sources:

  • Dried fruit

  • Processed potatoes

  • Shrimp (canned)

  • Wine

  • Beer

  • Certain processed meats

I imagine that once cooked the dried fruit lose their sulfite-asthma inducing capabilities but they may not so you might be better off sticking to fresh fruits, vegetables and meats versus ones that are dried or imported and need to be preserved.


  • Stay away from secondhand smoke.

  • Histamines and sulfites are in wines, champagnes and beers. Opt for a cleaner liquor if you must drink.

  • Egg whites are commonly found in mixed drinks as well as egg nog.

  • Holiday cakes and cookies contain dried fruits, which may contain more sulfites as well as common allergy triggers like nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat.

Holiday parties can be and should be enjoyable. They will be even more enjoyable if you aren't reaching for your inhaler or feeling wheezy or sneezy and need to leave.

Be aware of your triggers and be safe during this holiday season.

Sloane Miller
Meet Our Writer
Sloane Miller

Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, specialist in food allergy management and author, is founder and President of Allergic Girl Resources, Inc., a consultancy devoted to food allergy awareness. She consults with private clients, the healthcare, food, and hospitality industries, government and not-for-profit advocacy organizations. In 2006, Ms. Miller started Please Don't Pass the Nuts, an award-winning blog for and about people affected by food allergies. In 2011, John Wiley & Sons published Ms. Miller's book, Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well With Food Allergies, the definitive how-to guide. Ms. Miller combines a lifetime of personal experience and passion with professional expertise to connect with people about how to live safely, effectively, and joyously with food allergies.