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How to manage your breathing problems during the cold weather

How to manage your breathing problems during the cold weather

As winter approaches and the weather starts to turn colder, clinicians at NHS East Lancashire and NHS Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) would like to remind those who have with asthma or another respiratory (breathing) conditions how to manage their symptoms.

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are both lung diseases and both cause swelling in your airways that makes it hard to breathe. Asthma gets better; symptoms can come and go, and you may be symptom-free for a long time. With COPD, symptoms are constant and get worse over time, even with treatment.

With asthma, the swelling is often triggered by something you’re allergic to, like pollen or mold, or by physical activity. COPD is the name given to a group of lung diseases that include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Since asthma and COPD both make your airways swell, they both can cause shortness of breath, a cough and wheezing. One main difference is that asthma typically causes attacks of wheezing and tightness in your chest. COPD symptoms are usually more constant and can include a cough that brings up phlegm.

Dr David White, a Burnley GP and the clinical winter lead at the CCGs, said: “First of all it is imperative that anyone with a respiratory condition such as asthma or COPD get their annual flu vaccination as well as a Covid-19 vaccination and booster. We know that the risk of becoming seriously ill with either infection is higher in people with a long-term condition.

“In winter though, people with a respiratory condition will notice that the cold weather makes their condition worse. They may notice that they are coughing more, have more wheezing or are getting out of breath more easily.

“If this is happening to you and your inhalers are not helping, please contact your GP practice and ask for an appointment with the asthma nurse or GP. We ask that you bring all your inhalers and spacers if you have them with you to your appointments as we need to check that you are able to get the most out of them. Some are harder to use than others so it’s important that we know you can use them well.

“If you have symptoms, but are having problems making an appointment for a review at your GP practice, telephone 111. We recommend that everyone who uses inhalers has a review with their practice at least once a year.”

“You can do a lot to help manage your condition yourself. Knowing all you can about your condition, your symptoms, your medications and how to cope with flare-ups will make your day-to-day life easier. Keeping active and doing exercise can make a big difference – many people find this helps them more than inhaled drugs.”

There are a number of things you can do to help manage your asthma or COPD during cold weather:

  • Get your flu vaccination and Covid-19 vaccination/booster if you haven’t already – it isn’t too late
  • If you smoke, it is vital you quit
  • Continue to wear a face covering in enclosed or crowded spaces
  • If you go out, wear a scarf over your nose and mouth to stop the cold air going in your lungs and tightening your airways
  • Make sure you have enough medication and keep your inhaler with you at all times
  • Make sure you attend your regular review or if you find that you are having to increase your inhaler use, contact your GP practice to ask for a medication review
  • Have a plan about what to do if you need to use your blue inhaler 3 or more times per week. If this is happening it means that your airways are swelling up and there is a risk of having a serious asthma attack. Ask your asthma nurse for an asthma action plan

Dr White added: “If you have a child who is asthmatic it is very important that you maintain good contact with your child’s clinician. Also be vigilant to your child’s early warning signs of asthma and know your child’s asthma triggers. Make sure they take control but with your help and that they take their medication regularly. The CCGs have an excellent common childhood illness booklet available which has specific chapters on asthma and wheezing and breathing difficulties.

“If you find that you are suddenly breathless, can’t get your breathing, or your child’s breathing under control and you are struggling, do not hesitate to ring 999.”

An interactive web-based version of the Common Childhood Illnesses and Wellbeing handbook is available to view at https://www.eastlancsccg.nhs.uk/ci/

In addition, Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation both have some really good tips for staying well over winter and both have free telephone advice helplines available: