Bonfires could cause fatal asthma attacks, warns charity

Date: 2 November 2017

Bonfires and fireworks could cause potentially fatal asthma attacks, a leading asthma charity has warned, issuing advice ahead of Bonfire Night on 5 November.

The smoke fumes from burning wood and firework displays can linger in the air creating localised pollution, which could cause asthma attacks for the 5.4million people in the UK with the condition, says Asthma UK. Two thirds of people with asthma say poor air quality makes their symptoms worse.

The charity advises that the smoke from bonfires coupled with cold and wet weather, which can also trigger asthma symptoms, could be a ‘deadly’ combination. The warning comes after weather forecasts predict that temperatures could drop as low as -5 at the weekend.

Asthma UK, who provide a nurse-staffed helpline for people with asthma, advice on its website and funds over 30 research projects, says three people die from asthma attacks every day.

Having an asthma attack can be incredibly frightening, and one occurs every 10 seconds in the UK. An attack happens when the airways start to tighten, which can leave people coughing, wheezing and gasping for breath. Some people with asthma describe having an asthma attack as feeling like someone is holding a pillow over their face.

Asthma UK has advice for people with asthma on how to cope with bonfire night, saying it is vital people have their reliever inhaler (usually blue) with them at all times. 

Jessika, 25, a HR administrator from Manchester who was diagnosed with asthma when she was a child, was forced to call an ambulance when Bonfire Night sparked an asthma attack. She said:

“A few years ago, I had a terrifying asthma attack on bonfire night. I was at a family gathering and my gasps of amazement at the fireworks display soon turned into gasps for breath.

“The smoke from the fireworks made me wheeze so badly that my husband had to call an ambulance. I didn’t have my reliever inhaler with me.

“Thankfully, I managed to get my breathing under control by the time the ambulance arrived, but I know that I’m lucky my asthma attack didn’t escalate. I’m well aware that asthma attacks can be fatal.

“Now, I always carry my reliever inhaler with me on bonfire night and I want to urge people with asthma like me do the same – it could save your life.”

Asthma UK’s in-house GP, Dr Andy Whittamore, says:

“Lots of people love the excitement of bonfire night, but for some people with asthma it could be deadly.

“We don’t want people with asthma to miss out but we want them to be safe and aware of the increased risk this Bonfire Night when pollution will be higher than normal.

“We are urging people with asthma, or parents of children with asthma, to make sure they have their reliever inhaler with them, and want people’s friends and family to know what to do if their asthma symptoms suddenly get worse.”

Asthma UK has issued top tips for people with asthma on Bonfire Night:

  • Take your preventer medicines as prescribed
  • Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times
  • 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
  • If it’s cold, wrap a scarf over your nose and mouth; this will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in.

If anyone has any concerns about their asthma this Bonfire Night, they can call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 or visit Asthma UK website at www.asthma.org.uk/bonfire-night

---

Notes to Editors:

For more information, please contact the Asthma UK media team on mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).

The Asthma UK Data Portal is a new online tool for journalists to explore trends in asthma outcomes across the UK. Information on asthma facts and statistics can also be found on our website.

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