Keep asthma at bay this summer

With Breathe Easy Week starting on June 16, here’s a look at how the weather at this time of year can affect people who have asthma

If you’re one of the 5.4 million people in the UK currently receiving treatment for asthma, you may well feel relieved that the season has finally changed, with warmer weather on its way. After all, winter can be a particularly risky time for people with asthma in this country: according to Asthma UK, 75 percent of those affected say cold air triggers their symptoms.

But spring and summer come with potential problems for some people with asthma too, especially those who also have hay fever. Experts already know that hay fever and asthma are related, and that exposure to pollen can make asthma symptoms more severe because it irritates the airways.

Indeed, according to the NHS, if you have asthma your symptoms may get worse when you have hay fever (in fact, you may only get asthma symptoms when you have hay fever). These symptoms include a tight chest, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.

But experts now believe that having hay fever could triple your likelihood of developing asthma. Last summer, a report – supported by Allergy UK – warned that ineffective management of moderate to severe hay fever symptoms is causing thousands of avoidable asthma-­‐related emergency hospital admissions every year.

The report, called One Airway, One Disease: An expert report into the true impact of hay fever and asthma, revealed that more than 50,000 people with hay fever are being admitted to hospital with asthma every year (up to 40 percent of people with hay fever also have or will develop asthma, claims Allergy UK).

If you have asthma as well as the symptoms of hay fever during the spring and summer months, speak to your GP or pharmacist before you decide on a hay fever treatment. And whenever possible, begin taking your hay fever treatment before you start getting hay fever symptoms.

Hot weather warning

If we’re lucky enough to get a really hot summer this year, it may be good news for heat lovers and sun worshippers.

But for people with asthma, it could spell danger. Heat waves can be particularly challenging times for those with asthma and other lung conditions, thanks to high levels of ozone that can affect some people’s breathing (ozone is the result of traffic-­‐related pollution combined with sunlight).

So when the temperature soars, people with asthma may find their symptoms become worse.

According to Asthma UK, it’s important to keep a working blue reliever inhaler on you and to take your preventer inhalers as prescribed whenever pollution levels rise.

Other precautions include taking extra care to keep cool, drinking water regularly and making sure you have enough medicines in stock.

Stormy conditions

Meanwhile, according to Asthma UK, thunderstorms can trigger serious attacks in people with asthma too, especially children and young adults (thunderstorms have been linked with an increase in asthma attacks, with large numbers of people needing to go to A&E).

Experts aren’t really sure why this happens. However, they think the windy conditions during a thunderstorm may cause high levels of pollen and mould spores to be swept up high into the air, where the moisture breaks them into much smaller pieces. As those smaller particles settle back down, they can be breathed into the smaller airways of the lungs, where they irritate the airway and trigger asthma symptoms.

  • Be aware of pollen, air pollution  levels and weather forecasts (visit  uk–air.defra.gov.uk for updates)
  • If a thunderstorm is expected, try  to stay indoors and keep the  windows closed.
  • Keep your reliever near by at all times.
  • Know how to recognise if your asthma is getting worse and when to call for help.

Going away this summer? Turn to page 31 for a holiday checklist for people with asthma.