Cold weather puts 4 million people with asthma at risk as temperatures plummet

Asthma UK says 'a scarf can save a life' as it launches its #Scarfie campaign to prevent life-threatening asthma attacks this winter

Monday 4 December 2017

Plummeting temperatures this winter could put 4 million people with asthma at risk* of life-threatening asthma attacks, warns leading charity Asthma UK.

Asthma UK is encouraging people with asthma to wear a scarf over their nose and mouth to reduce the chance of them having a life-threatening asthma attack.

Around 4 million people –  75 per cent of those with asthma –  say that breathing in cold winter air makes their asthma symptoms worse, increasing their risk of an asthma attack. This is because cold and damp air can enter the airways of people with asthma and trigger them to go into spasm. But if people wear a scarf over their mouth and nose it can help warm up the air before they breathe it in.

This year’s #Scarfie campaign, which encourages people with asthma to spread the message ‘a scarf could save a life’, is supported by celebrities including actor Stephen Fry, Olympic athlete Jo Pavey and This Morning’s GP Dr Ranj Singh. They will be tweeting their #Scarfie this winter– a selfie with a scarf covering their nose and mouth – to encourage people with asthma to share the advice as the temperature drops.

The campaign, which has now been running for three years, has also been supported in the past by celebrities including Andrew Castle, Anton Du Beke and Emily Maitlis[Photos available].

Debbi Wood, 58, a mum-of-two from Portsmouth, has ended up in A&E countless times because of cold weather triggering an asthma attacks. She said:

“I’ve had asthma for nearly 30 years, but you never get used to the feeling of having an asthma attack. It’s terrifying and feels like breathing through a tiny straw.

“Cold air has been such a problem for me, and even walking the distance between my house and my car in the early mornings would trigger asthma attacks so bad I would have to go to hospital.

“Thankfully, I saw #Scarfie on social media a couple of years ago, and now I have far fewer problems with my asthma in the cold weather. Wrapping a scarf around my nose and mouth is a simple action, but for people with asthma like me it can make a huge difference in winter.”

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP, said:

“Most people aren’t keen on the nights drawing in and weather getting colder, but for many people with asthma, just going outside on a cold day can be life-threatening.

“Living in the UK means that cold weather is impossible to avoid over winter, but if people have asthma, simply wrapping a scarf around their nose and mouth can warm up the air before they breathe it in, reducing their risk of having an asthma attack.

“We are urging everyone – whether they have asthma or know someone that does –  to share the message that something as simple as a scarf could save a life.”

Asthma UK provide a nurse-staffed helpline for people with asthma, advice on its website and funds over 30 research projects to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma.

Having an asthma attack is 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 a pillow is being held over their face.

To find out more about #Scarfie and how you can get involved, visit


Notes to Editors:

*5.4 million people in the UK have asthma. 1,542 people responded to Asthma UK’s National Asthma Panel survey, of which 1,154 said that cold air triggered their asthma. The survey ran from 5 May to 9 June 2004.

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

The Asthma UK Data Portal is an 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