As temperatures drop, health services are gearing up for the number of extra patients they see with lung conditions and urging patients to plan ahead.
In winter, GPs see more people suffering from breathing complications and, according to the British Lung Foundation, there are almost 80 per cent more respiratory admissions to hospital in December, January and February than March, April and May. It all adds pressure on the health system which leads to delays.
Cold weather can trigger a flare-up of symptoms for people who already have conditions that affect their breathing. This is due to the dry air which causes the fluid lining of the throat to dry up which can lead to irritations and swelling. Cold weather also increases the production of thicker and stickier than normal mucus which can cause blockages in the respiratory system and also increases likelihood of colds or other infections.
Dr Ben Butler-Reid, a Blackpool GP and clinical director for NHS Blackpool and NHS Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), said: “Winter is a difficult time for the NHS and the best way we can make sure services don’t get swamped is to make sure those who could experience flare-ups in their condition are prepared and prevent themselves needing hospital admittance.”
People with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or severe asthma, can be particularly prone to the effects of cold weather, becoming shorter of breath and coughing more than usual.
Christopher Jackson, respiratory nurse specialist at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It is important those who have a long-term respiratory condition understand their self-management plan and where and when to seek further advice or support.
“People with respiratory conditions should ensure that they have a supply of their inhalers and they are using them correctly. Those with COPD whose condition could get worse should have access to ‘rescue medication’ and review this with a health care professional.”
If you have a lung disease, below are some tips about how you can fight the impact of the cold and keep your lungs as healthy as possible throughout the winter months.
Firstly, it is important to keep warm by wearing layers of clothing when it is cold. This may sound obvious, but is something people too often forget or don’t plan for.
Keeping the home warm is also crucial. The optimum room temperature is 21 degrees in the living room and 18 degrees in the bedroom. It is better to make sure the bedroom is nice and warm before going to bed to ensure you stay comfortable throughout the night.
Staying active and doing some light exercise can also be extremely helpful by keeping the blood circulating and the body warm.
Appropriate exercise is generally good for strengthening lung health at any time of year. If you have a lung condition, your doctor will be able to advise you of a suitable level of exercise for you and local places where you can do this if you can’t do it in the home.
Plan ahead with your medication
Those on medication should carry it with them and people who have been prescribed bronchodilators (medication to help people breathe) should use them half an hour before leaving the house to prevent the cold weather causing a sudden tightening of the airways when they are out.
Get your flu vaccination
There are often outbreaks of flu in periods of cold weather, so anyone with a lung condition should contact their GP to take advantage of the free flu vaccine they are entitled to, if they haven’t already.
If your symptoms become severe, get in touch with your GP or call 111 if you feel you can’t wait.