When you have asthma, It’s not just colder weather that is a risk. An abundance of colds and flu, the smoke from Bonfire night, even a stroll through the countryside, can all trigger asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and a tight chest.
Just going outside on a cold day carries the risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. When people with asthma breathe cold or damp air, it can irritate their already inflamed airways and trigger them to go into spasm. This causes the muscles in the airways to tighten and mucus to build, making it difficult for the air to get through and for people to breathe.
Asthma UK estimates that more than 4 million people with asthma in the UK could be at risk of an asthma attack due to plummeting temperatures. But while we can’t control the change in temperature, there are easy ways to stay well with your asthma.
Always take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) every day as prescribed, as this reduces the inflammation in your airways over time so that if you come into contact with an asthma trigger such as cold air, you are less likely to have an asthma attack. Your reliever inhaler is the life-saver in your pocket. Make sure you take it out with you for on-the-spot relief if you have asthma symptoms.
Another top tip is to do a ‘scarfie’ and wrap a scarf loosely around your nose and mouth. This warms up the air before you breathe it in, reducing your risk of having an asthma attack.
COLDS AND FLU
Autumn signals the start of cold and flu season but if you have asthma you could end up with more than a sore head and a runny nose – you could have a life-threatening asthma attack. Around 81% of people with asthma say their symptoms worsen when they have a cold or flu.
While it’s difficult to avoid colds, other than washing your hands regularly and looking after yourself to build up your immune system, evidence shows there is an easy way to avoid flu – get the flu vaccine! If you have been prescribed a preventer inhaler alongside your blue inhaler, you are entitled to a free jab from your GP or pharmacist (just take your brown inhaler prescription with you as proof).
Worryingly, Asthma UK’s research showed that last year around a quarter of people in the UK were ‘playing Russian roulette’ with their lives, by avoiding getting the flu vaccine, worried it could ‘give them flu’ or would have severe side effects. But these are common myths. Asthma UK addresses these questions and has more information on this at www.asthma.org.uk/fluvaccine.
Remember, remember…to take your reliever inhaler with you if you’re going to a bonfire night or firework display. The smoke from bonfires and fireworks can linger in the air and cause localised air pollution, an asthma attack trigger. Symptoms can be made worse by other asthma triggers such as the cold weather.
As well as encouraging people with asthma to take their preventer inhaler and ensure they always have their reliever inhaler with them, we advise that if smoke is making you cough, stand well back and admire the fireworks from a distance.
Make sure the people you are with know what to do if you are having an asthma attack and when to get help if your symptoms suddenly get worse. You can contact Asthma UK’s nurses to get sent a handy infographic which you can download to your phone and message to your friends and family ahead of time.
You can’t beat an autumn stroll through the countryside, with fallen leaves crunching beneath your feet. But at this time of year, rotting leaves and logs combined with cold, damp weather can result in high levels of mould and fungal spores in the air and this can be perilous to many people with asthma.
An estimated 2 million people with asthma in the UK say mould allergies affect their asthma symptoms. Make sure you take your medication as prescribed and try to avoid areas such as woodlands, parks, or gardens.
Remember, mould can grow inside your home too so ensure you open the windows regularly to keep it well ventilated and avoid drying clothes indoors.
ROARING LOG FIRES
The idea of sipping hot chocolate or a glass of red wine by a roaring log fire might seem romantic, but if you have asthma it could leave you struggling to breathe.
Burning wood gives off fine particles known as PM2.5, which are actually the same particles found in traffic pollution. These can get into the airways, bringing on asthma symptoms.
We’d advise people with asthma who find smoke triggers their symptoms to avoid using open fires as heating. If you do have a log fire, use dry woods with a ‘ready to burn’ label (wet wood gives off more smoke) and ensure the room you are in is well ventilated. A lot of pubs light up their wood fires at this time of year, so you may want to call ahead and check before you head out.