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The Christmas Epidemic: Is Christmas A COPD Trigger?

The Christmas Epidemic: Is Christmas A COPD Trigger?

Last year I made a list of “10 Christmas COPD Triggers.” Apparently I missed a key trigger: Christmas itself. Seriously, folks! Researchers really think Christmas is a COPD trigger. Or, at least the Christmas season. In fact, so much so that they even did a study. And they came up with a name for it: “The Christmas epidemic of COPD hospitalization.” Or, simply put, “The Christmas Epidemic.”1 So, what should we make of this.

Researchers noted a trend of increased COPD admissions for COPD during the Christmas season. They came up with some theories explaining them.

Respiratory Viruses trigger COPD

Respiratory viruses tend to love colder temperatures. One study showed that the flu virus loves 40 degrees or less. So, this may explain why winter is the height of flu season.2-3

In my previous post, I alluded to this. I warned against spending time with sick kids. They go to school, they bring germs back home. They are really good at spreading these germs.

Researchers are well aware of the September Epidemic. This is the epidemic of colds that begin when school starts. Kids from all over get together. Some carry respiratory viruses. These viruses jump from one kid to another. Kids go home and share these germs with their family members. This causes an epidemic.

So, one theory is that something similar happens around Christmas time. People with COPD get together with family and friends. Respiratory viruses jump from one person to another. People get sick. When people with COPD get sick it triggers flare-ups. And this happens to more than one person with COPD. And this begins the Christmas Epidemic.1

Doctor’s offices are closed

This is theory number 2: Doctor’s offices are closed. Like, it’s lack of access to healthcare.1

So, you’re having a flare-up. Normally you’d follow your COPD Action Plan. Based on how you’re feeling, your plan may say it’s time to call your doctor. But, your doctor is out of the office for the holidays. So, this poses a problem.

So, a second theory is COPD is worse during the Christmas season due to lack of availability of doctors. Rather than seeking help and getting proper treatment, people stay home and tough it out. Perhaps they think they can make it until Monday when the doctor’s office opens.

The alternative is going to an emergency room. And, no one wants to go to the hospital! Right? I mean, you’re not sick enough, right? So, we tend to want to tough it out. We’ll wait and hope to get better instead. We’ll self treat ourselves the best we can.

Things don’t always get better

One problem: things don’t always get better. You may end up getting worse. And, in the end, you may end up going to the emergency room anyway. Only, now you’re worse than if we’d have just gone in right away. If you’re sick enough, you may get admitted. This is another viable theory for the Christmas COPD Epidemic.

So, then there was a study performed.

It involved 71 people diagnosed with COPD. They were monitored from December 1, 2006, to April 30, 2007. They each kept symptom diaries. They faxed these to a computer monitoring system.1

When flare-ups were reported, the patient received a visit. They had to undergo a physical examination. They had to perform a PFT. And they had to have their sputum tested for respiratory viruses.1

During the period of study, 110 COPD flare-ups were reported. And 47 of these occurred during the Christmas season. Of these exacerbations, 44% were caused by a respiratory virus. So, researchers say this study proved their theories. It proved the Christmas Epidemic.

What to make of this?

So, it does appear the Christmas season may spawn more COPD flare-ups. This does not mean you can’t enjoy the Christmas season. But, it may spotlight the need to take extra precautions this time of year. Certainly, make sure to get your flu shot before the season begins. Be sure to tell people who are sick to stay away. When you’re around others, be sure to wash your hands often and take whatever precautions you can.

And, definitely, do heed your COPD Action Plan. Do heed your early warning symptoms. If you recognize any of these, refer to your COPD Action Plan. If your plan says to call your doctor, it’s okay to visit your local emergency room instead. We will certainly take care of you. If you don’t have a COPD Action Plan, here are some tips for “When to seek help.” Just remember that the earlier you seek help, the easier it is to fix you and get you back home to your family and friends.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Johnston, Neil W., et al., "The Christmas season as a risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations," Canadian Respiratory Journal, 2010, Nov. to Dec.,, accessed 12/6/18
  2. Niall, Hugh D., "Why do we get the flu most often in the winter? Are viruses more virulent in cold weather?" Scientific American,, accessed 12/6/18
  3. Kolata, Gina, "Study Shows Why The Flu Likes Winter," The New York Times, 2010, December 5,, accessed 12/6/18
  4. "September Epidemic," National Jewish Health,, accessed 12/6/18


  • KevinDavitt
    8 months ago

    As always, John – great advice and wonderful resources (When to seek help; COPD Action Plan).

    Thank you and Happy New Year!

  • KevinDavitt
    8 months ago

    As always, John – great advice and wonderful resources (When to see help; COPD Action Plan).

    Thank you and Happy New Year!

  • LoisCruz
    8 months ago

    I’m 62, diagnosed with COPD a little over 3 years ago, and this is the first year I’ve had a Christmas exacerbation. It started the same way they always start–with a head cold. I had one over Labor Day, too, that started the same way. Maybe I just need to sit out holidays! The past two days have been awful. I don’t think I’ve had 8 hours of sleep in the past 60 hours. I went to the doctor Thursday, got a steroid shot, and started taking my 40 mg of prednisone x 5 days yesterday. Can anyone give me some hope that the worst is over?

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi LoisCruz, As Leon said, We get more used to our symptoms as get more familiar with our COPD. Everyone is different and we all have different side effects of living. I too have a hard time at Christmas and I must learn to sit and wait it out. I hope that your meds kick in soon and you are back to your more normal self. Reach out anytime. We are here for you at Barbara (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Lois and thanks for your post. As you become more and more familiar with your condition and the exacerbations, you may be able to get a better sense of you sensitivities. The holidays can be stressful for people, and sometimes that can act as a trigger, as John has mentioned in the article. In your case, it sounds somewhat coincidental that you developed the head cold over the holiday(s) – Labor Day and now Christmas. It’s difficult to predict whether the worst is behind you, but as long as you can treat the exacerbations, you can look forward to them improving. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

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