Firework displays and bonfires this weekend could spark potentially deadly asthma attacks and affect more than 3 million people with asthma in the UK*, Asthma UK has warned, sharing life-saving health advice ahead of Guy Fawkes night celebrations.
Smoke particles from bonfires and firework displays can linger in the air and create localised air pollution, a major trigger for 61% of people with asthma in the UK – an estimated 3.3million people**.
People who have asthma, a serious respiratory condition, have inflamed airways. When they come into contact with asthma triggers such as firework and bonfire smoke, it irritates their airways so they become more inflamed and tighten, causing coughing, wheezing and leaving them struggling to breathe. Every day in the UK, three people die from an asthma attack.
Last year, Asthma UK saw a 20% surge in calls to its helpline nurses over Bonfire Night and the surrounding weekends, compared to the previous week***. Official figures also show that more than 7600 people were admitted to hospital with asthma in the UK in November 2017 compared to 7100 the month before****.
Having an asthma attack can be incredibly frightening, and one occurs every 10 seconds in the UK. Some people with asthma describe having an asthma attack as feeling like someone is holding a pillow over their face.
Nicola Pearson, 45, a school nurse practitioner from Preston said: “A few years ago firework smoke got into my lungs and I was left struggling to breathe. My chest felt tight and I was coughing. It was a really frightening experience and I had to leave the fireworks display.
“I love fireworks and don’t want to miss out on the fun, so I make sure I carry my reliever inhaler in my coat pocket and keep a scarf wrapped loosely around my mouth and nose. That way I can join in the festivities but also stay safe.”
Asthma UK, which runs a nurse-staffed helpline for people with asthma, has provided life-saving health advice on its website at asthma.org.uk/bonfire-night to help people with asthma stay well if they still want to enjoy bonfire night.
Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practicing GP, said:
“Fireworks and bonfire displays might look pretty but if you have asthma triggered by smoke, they could land you in hospital. While many people will be looking forward to watching firework displays, the increased levels of soot in the air can get into people’s airways and trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath or even an asthma attack.
“The good news is if people with asthma follow our top tips such as taking their preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed, keeping their reliever inhaler (usually blue) with them in case of emergencies and making sure their family and friends know what to do if they have an asthma attack, they should not have to miss out on festivities. We have more information at asthma.org.uk/bonfire-night.”
Asthma UK has issued top tips for people with asthma on Bonfire Night:
- Remember, remember….to carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times.
- Take your preventer medicines as prescribed.
- If you find that smoke is making you cough, stand well back and admire the fireworks from a distance.
- Make sure your friends and family know what to do and when to get help if your asthma symptoms suddenly get worse.
- As cold air can also be an asthma trigger, if it’s cold, wrap a thin scarf loosely over your nose and mouth; this will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in.
- Visit our website to share our ‘what to do in an asthma attack’ with friends and family
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Notes to Editors:
For more information, please contact the Asthma UK media team on firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).
*In Asthma UK’s report Falling Through The Gaps: Why More People Need Basic Asthma Care, we surveyed more than 7,000 people with asthma in the UK. 61.6% said air pollution triggered their asthma. To find the estimated number of people with asthma in the UK who said air pollution triggered their asthma, we applied this proportion to the population of people with asthma in the UK (5.4million), to get a figure of 3.3million.
** As above
*** Asthma UK received 174 calls to the nurse-staffed telephone helpline in the period of 2-12 November 2018 and 146 calls in the period between 5-15 October 2018. The percentage increase is 19.17%.
**** Hospital admissions data based on October – November 2017. Data via bespoke requests from NHS Digital, ISD Scotland, NHS Wales and Department of Health Northern Ireland.
About Asthma UK
- In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
- Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
- Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
- The Asthma UK Helpline is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 0300 222 5800.
- For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk