[Guest blog] Eight tips to stay well with asthma this winter

Clinical Lead and GP at Asthma UK
14 December 2017

Not many people are very keen on the nights drawing in and the weather getting colder. But living in the UK means that plummeting temperatures are pretty inevitable over the winter months. Many people can just pull on an extra layer to deal with the cold. But if you have asthma, just walking between your house and car on a cold day could leave you wheezing, or even trigger a life-threatening asthma attack. In fact, around 4 million people across the UK are at risk of asthma attacks when the cold weather sets in.

But if you have asthma, there are some things you can do to stay well. Asthma UK’s Clinical Lead and GP Dr Andy Whittamore explains.

Picture of a woman holding a scarf around her neck.

Why does asthma get worse over winter?

If you have asthma, the airways that carry air into your lungs are very sensitive. They get easily irritated when they come into contact with something they don’t like – known as an asthma trigger. Asthma is what’s called a ‘variable condition’, so what triggers one person’s asthma may not trigger someone else’s. Some of the most common asthma triggers include cold and flu viruses, pollen, cold weather and dust.

Around three out of every four people with asthma experience symptoms in the cold weather. This is because cold and damp air can enter your airways and trigger them to go into spasm. This leads to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and breathlessness. If these symptoms get out of hand, you could experience an asthma attack. So to protect yourself, try the following tips:

1. Take your preventer inhaler as prescribed

The best way to protect yourself from asthma symptoms at any time of year is to take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed by your GP or asthma nurse. The protective effect of your preventer inhaler builds up over time to reduce the sensitivity, swelling and inflammation in your airways. This means that if you’ve been taking your inhaler, you’re much less likely to get asthma symptoms even when you are exposed to triggers.

2. Carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times

Because asthma is a variable condition, one day you might feel fine and the next you could be struggling with your symptoms. This means it’s really important to keep your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you when you’re out and about so you’re prepared if your symptoms get worse. If you find you’re needing to use your reliever inhaler three or more times a week, your asthma probably isn’t as well managed as it could be. You should book an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse.

3. Wrap up warm

It might seem obvious to wear lots of warm clothes when it’s cold outside. But a humble scarf could save your life if you find cold weather triggers your asthma symptoms. Wrapping a scarf loosely around your nose and mouth warms up the air before you breathe it in, reducing your risk of life-threatening asthma symptoms. This is a really simple tip that everyone with asthma should know. Take a look at our #scarfie campaign to find out more.

4. Use your nose

Breathing in cold air through your mouth could shock your airways and may lead to asthma symptoms. But your nose is actually designed to warm up the air before your breathe it in, so try to do this whenever possible.

5. Get your flu jab

It’s recommended that you get your flu jab around October or November. But if you didn’t manage to get around to it or simply forgot, speak to your GP or asthma nurse to see if it’s right for you. Cold and flu viruses are the most common asthma trigger – more than 80 per cent of people with asthma say it makes their symptoms worse. So it’s important to protect yourself as much as possible.

6. Follow your written asthma action plan

A written asthma action plan contains information on what you should do on a normal day, what to do if your symptoms worsen, and what to do if you’re having an asthma attack. Make sure you keep this somewhere you can easily see it – on the fridge, for example. Also take a photo of it on your phone so you have it with you even when you’re not at home.

7. Watch out for surprising asthma triggers

The obvious triggers over winter are cold weather and cold and flu viruses, but did you know your Christmas tree could also cause asthma symptoms? Naturally-occurring mould on your Christmas tree grows faster when the heating is turned on. If you’re allergic to mould spores then this could be a problem with your asthma. So try hosing the tree down before bringing it inside or keeping it in a cooler part of your house.

8. Keep an eye on the weather forecast

Make sure you know when the temperature is set to plummet so you’re well prepared to manage your asthma.

To find out more information on staying safe with asthma this winter, visit www.asthma.org.uk

Asthma UK received a grant from the Bupa UK Foundation. The Bupa UK Foundation funds practical projects that will make a direct impact on people's health and wellbeing. Launched in 2015, to date it has awarded over £1.4 million in grants to more than 50 projects across the UK to improve people’s mental health, support carers and empower young adults living with ongoing health challenges to live life to the full.

Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. It does this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people with asthma through its nurse-staffed helpline and expert advice on its website. For more information please visit www.asthma.org.uk

Dr Andy Whittamore
Clinical Lead and GP at Asthma UK

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