Flu epidemic puts more than 4 million people with asthma at risk, new research shows

Asthma UK warns people with asthma to stay well as death toll for flu this winter exceeds 200 people

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Cold and flu viruses could put more than 4 million people with asthma at risk this winter, according to new research by Asthma UK.

A survey of more than 7,500 people in the UK with asthma revealed that 81 percent of people with the condition - an estimated 4.3 million people in the UK - say cold and flu viruses makes their asthma symptoms worse, increasing their risk of having a life-threatening asthma attack.*

Last year, more than 40,000 people with asthma were hospitalised during the winter months.**

With recent figures showing that more than 200 people have died from flu this winter,the charity is urging people with asthma to stay well by taking their preventer inhaler as prescribed by their doctor and speaking to their GP about whether a flu jab is right for them.

Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s Clinical Lead and a practising GP says:

“The flu outbreak this year is extremely concerning and needs to be taken seriously. As many as 4 in 5 people with asthma could be at an increased risk of life-threatening asthma attacks if they catch the virus.

“The best way for people with asthma to stay safe this winter is to make sure they take their asthma medicines as prescribed. This ensures their airways are less inflamed and sensitive, and will help them to resist the effects of the flu.

“Everyone with asthma should also make sure they are washing their hands regularly to prevent spreading viruses, and look after themselves by eating a varied, balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep.”

As cold air is also a major trigger for asthma attacks, the charity is also encouraging people to get behind its ‘Scarfie’ campaign, where ‘a scarf could save a life’. If people wear a scarf over their nose and mouth it warms up the air before they breathe it in, reducing the chance of them having an asthma attack. 

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, which provides 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.

To find out more about how colds and flu can affect your asthma, please visit www.asthma.org.uk/coldsandflu


Notes to Editors:

*Falling Through the Gaps: Why more people need basic asthma careincluded a survey of 7,611 people with asthma across the UK. To estimate that more than 4 million in the UK with asthma are at risk this winter, we applied the proportion of people in the survey who said that cold and flu viruses triggers their asthma (81%) to the UK asthma population which is 5.4 million.

** Data sourced via bespoke requests to NHS Digital (England), ISD Scotland and NHS Wales, 2015/16. 42,247 people were admitted to hospital for asthma in the UK (not including Northern Ireland) between September 1, 2015 and February 29, 2016. 

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).

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