Tens of thousands of people at risk of being hospitalised this winter with an asthma attack

Winter is deadliest season for people with asthma, says Asthma UK

Tens of thousands of people in the UK could be at risk of being hospitalised this winter from a life-threatening asthma attack, according to new analysis from Asthma UK.

The charity says winter can be ‘deadly’ for people with asthma compared to other conditions because cold weather, colds and flu and even dust from putting on the central heating can all trigger a life-threatening asthma attack.

If people with asthma follow life-saving health advice and get help as soon as they spot their asthma symptoms getting worse, it could prevent them ending up in hospital.

Asthma UK has analysed hospital statistics from the last five years to predict that an estimated 26,000* people in the UK could be hospitalised with asthma this winter. It has also revealed that nearly half (45%)** of all asthma deaths happen over the winter months. Most recent figures show that asthma claimed the lives of over 650*** people last winter.

A recent study by the Royal College of Physicians revealed that more than half of frontline medical staff fear their hospital will not be able to keep patients safe this winter.****

With the NHS facing increased pressure with growing demand for care and large-scale staff shortages, Asthma UK is urging people with asthma to follow its simple tips to stay well this winter.  It also wants people to understand when they do need to get urgent medical help.

For example, if someone’s asthma symptoms are so severe that they need to use their blue reliever inhaler three or more times each week it is a sign that an asthma attack could be imminent, and they should visit a doctor or nurse urgently.

People with asthma have sensitive airways. When they come into contact with winter triggers such as plunging temperatures, colds and flu and mould, it causes their airways to become more inflamed and tighten, causing coughing, wheezing and leaving people struggling to breathe.

Colds and flu are the most common winter triggers for people with asthma, affecting an estimated 4.4 million people in the UK. 

Karen Peacock, 47, a customer service manager from Paisley, knows first-hand how winter can play havoc with asthma symptoms. She was hospitalised last December with an asthma attack after a picking up a virus. She said:

“I‘d been for a Christmas dinner with friends but when I got home I felt my chest tighten like it was a vice and I started gasping for breath.  I managed to get myself to hospital, where doctors told me I was having a life-threatening asthma attack. I had to breathe through a mask and stay in hospital for 6 days.

“When it’s winter you accept you might get a cold or a virus but I never expected it to trigger something more deadly like an asthma attack. Looking back, I realised I had the warning signs that an asthma attack was imminent as I was using my reliever inhaler almost every day. I want to encourage other people with asthma to get advice on winter triggers from Asthma UK – it might just save your life.”

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

“Winter is the deadliest season for people with asthma, with plummeting temperatures, and colds and flu putting them at greater risk of being hospitalised for a life-threatening asthma attack. Not only is it stressful for people with asthma to fend off these winter triggers but it is a huge worry for their friends and family, seeing them gasping for breath.

“We’re encouraging people to follow our simple and effective steps to reduce their risk of being hospitalised with asthma attack this winter at www.asthma.org.uk/wintertriggers

Asthma UK’s top tips to keep asthma at bay this winter:

  • Take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed. This builds up protection over time and means you’re less likely to have an asthma attack if you come into contact with a trigger.
  • Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) at all times
  • Tackle your winter triggers by visiting www.asthma.org.uk/wintertriggers
  • Watch out for danger signs that your asthma is getting worse such as needing to use your blue reliever inhaler three or more times each week
  • Wrap a scarf loosely around your mouth and nose to warm up the air as cold air is a top asthma attack trigger.

For tips on how to look after your asthma this winter visit www.asthma.org.uk/wintertriggers


Notes to editors

For more information, please contact the Emma Warren on ewarren@asthma.org.uk, 020 7786 4982 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).

Journalists can access the latest figures and trends in asthma outcomes across the UK, here. Information on asthma facts and statistics can also be found on our website.

*Estimate based on average hospital admissions for asthma from December – March (2012-13 to 2016-17). Data via bespoke requests from NHS Digital, NHS Wales, ISD Scotland and Department of Health Northern Ireland

**Figures from ONS, NR of Scotland and NISRA and analysed by Asthma UK

***Figures from ONS, NR of Scotland and NISRA and analysed by Asthma UK

****Royal College of Physicians, poll of 1,737 doctors, trainees, consultants and SAS      doctors, conducted from 14-21 November 2018: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/less-third-doctors-involved-winter-planning-new-rcp-poll-finds

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.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk