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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

Holiday Handbook for Respiratory Patients

Posted by Lisa Burkhart on Dec 20, 2023 9:00:00 AM
Lisa Burkhart



holiday handbook

Navigating the holiday season can be a joyous yet challenging time, especially for individuals living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or other chronic respiratory conditions. The festivities often bring about various triggers, from cold weather and air pollutants to rich foods and stress, all of which can exacerbate COPD symptoms. However, with careful planning, self-care, and support, it's possible to enjoy the holidays while managing COPD effectively.

Embracing Self-Care During the Holidays

Prioritize Health Needs

Put your health first. Ensure you have an adequate supply of medications, inhalers, and any necessary medical equipment. Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider before the holidays to assess your condition and discuss any concerns.

Maintain Hydration and Nutrition

Dehydration is a very common cause of exacerbation. Your lungs are about 83% water. If your body requires water to digest food, cool your body, or for any other function, it is likely to take it from the lungs if you’re dehydrated. This is likely to inhibit your ability to breathe deeply. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake. Opt for well-balanced, nutritious meals that are COPD-friendly, avoiding excessive salt, sugar, and heavy or processed foods that may trigger symptoms. Keep your food diary in mind while enjoying holiday meals. Don’t indulge in foods that you know make you feel bloated or otherwise affect your breathing.

Practice Stress Management

The holiday season can be stressful. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle exercises like yoga to manage stress levels, which can impact COPD symptoms. Don’t neglect your active cycle breathing and remember to do some deep breathing or pursed lip breathing if you begin to feel stressed or start to feel shortness of breath. Be kind to yourself and choose peace. If you feel that you are going to over stress yourself, don’t be afraid to say no or attend gatherings for a more limited time.

Coping with Cold Weather

Dress for the Weather

Cold air can be harsh on the lungs. Bundle up with scarves, hats, and layers to keep warm and protect against cold air inhalation. Consider using a scarf to cover your nose and mouth when outdoors to warm the air before breathing it in. Cold dry air can irritate bronchial passages which can cause coughing or wheezing.

Use Indoor Air Quality Measures

Ensure indoor spaces are well-heated and consider using a humidifier to maintain optimal humidity levels. The American Lung Association suggests that about 40% humidity is the optimal level for comfortable breathing.  Avoid wood-burning fireplaces or excessive exposure to smoke, as they can aggravate respiratory symptoms. Also remember that open flames of any sort are dangerous if you’re on oxygen. If you’re boiling or simmering something on the stove, you are introducing humidity into the air. This may be beneficial if you are in a dry climate but if it’s humid where you live, turn on the exhaust fan or crack a window. More moisture in the air means less oxygen. It’s the same reason that you may have trouble breathing during a hot shower.

Navigating Social Gatherings

Plan Ahead for Gatherings

Communicate your needs to family and friends. Request smoke-free environments and minimal exposure to potential allergens. Let people know if pets are likely to escalate your symptoms so you can possibly meet elsewhere or pets can be contained. Choose well-ventilated areas and avoid crowded places where exposure to viruses or irritants might be higher. Resist burning potpourri or scented candles, as they can cause irritation.  

Pace Yourself

Take breaks during festivities to rest and catch your breath. Avoid overexertion and delegate tasks when possible. Be mindful of your energy levels and know when it's time to step away for a breather. Consider taking a ride share or using valet parking so that you don’t have to walk as far in the cold air. Plan a meal or tea break in the middle of the day so that you don’t get over tired.

holiday travel

Traveling with COPD During the Holidays

Prepare for Travel

If traveling, plan ahead. Ensure you have sufficient medications, a written copy of your medical information, and any necessary medical equipment. Consider requesting assistance or wheelchair services at airports to conserve energy. The first thing you should do is speak to your doctor about additional medicines that they may suggest you take, such as antihistamines if you’re traveling in summer to a location you’re unfamiliar with. You may also ask for permission to get an extra refill of essential medications in case you lose one. Always keep medications in your carryon in case your checked bags get lost or delayed.

Manage Air Travel Challenges

Changes in air pressure during flights can affect breathing. Use your prescribed medications before boarding and stay hydrated during the flight. Move around periodically to prevent blood clots and maintain circulation. You may consider wearing compression socks if that’s something that your doctor recommends. If you are going to be taking your oxygen concentrator. Charge it up and use it a few times at least a month before traveling so that if batteries or sieve beds have gone bad while being stored, you’ll still have time to get replacements before you travel. Keep in mind that shipping times are often extended during the holiday season.

Flying with Oxygen

If you’re flying, be sure to ask your airline what requirements they have. Many airlines are ok with the FAA approved sticker on your concentrator, while others want to see a doctor’s prescription or letter certifying that you are able to travel. Keep in mind that the cruising altitude of an airplane is about 32,000 feet while the pressurized altitude is equivalent to roughly 8,000 feet so your doctor may advise you to change your flow rate while in flight. You may also ask your doctor about differences in humidity, altitude, and temperature at your destination, as these can affect your breathing. Also keep in mind that most airlines require you to have 150% of battery life as compared to flight time. In other words, if you have a 4 hour flight, you need 6 hours of available battery life.

Leave for the airport in plenty of time as stress and anxiety can also bring on breathlessness. Telephone the airport at least a day ahead of time if you feel that you may need assistance getting to your gate. If you can disconnect from your oxygen for a short time, you can safely place it on the belt at TSA. If not, let the agent know and they will take you to a private screening area where they can inspect you while you’re wearing your oxygen.

Road Trips with Oxygen

Be sure that your DC power cord is packed and in good working order. Never plug your concentrator into the DC power outlet when the car is off. It may drain the battery. While you’re driving, plug in your concentrator to preserve battery power. 

The floor is the safest place to place your concentrator so that if you stop short it doesn’t fly into the dashboard or onto the floor. Be sure the concentrator isn’t against any cushions or that jackets or blankets are covering the exhaust flow. This may cause the machine to overheat.

Never leave your concentrator in the trunk overnight. Extreme temperatures or humidity can damage the electronics in the machine and shorten the life of sieve beds.

Seeking Support and Enjoying the Season

Lean on Support Systems

The holiday season can be a joyful but stressful time of year as well. Anxiety and depression both can affect your breathing. Reach out to support groups or loved ones who understand your condition. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed. Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as spending time with loved ones, listening to music, or enjoying hobbies. Don’t feel like you have to do everything by yourself. Suggest a family potluck or invite a few guests over early to help you prepare.

Focus on Meaningful Moments

Remember that the holidays are about cherished moments, not perfection. Embrace the spirit of the season by engaging in activities that bring you joy and spending quality time with loved ones. Don’t darken your mood by idealizing past holidays when you were physically able to do more things. Focus on the fun times to be had in the present. Be grateful for the things that you can do rather than mourning the things that you can’t.


Getting through the holidays with COPD requires thoughtful planning, self-care, and adaptability. By prioritizing health needs, managing environmental triggers, pacing oneself, and seeking support, individuals with COPD can navigate the festivities with greater ease and enjoy meaningful moments during this special time of the year. Remember, taking care of yourself is the best gift you can give, allowing you to savor the joys of the season while managing COPD effectively. We hope these tips will help you have the happiest holiday season ever!

happy holidays-1

Happy Holidays from the 1st Class Medical Family to Yours!

Topics: copd tips, smallest portable oxygen concentrator

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