Fasting and asthma

Here’s what you need to know to look after your asthma if you’re fasting for religious or other reasons

Fasting is willingly avoiding some or all food, drink, or both for a period of time. Fasting, in one form or another, has always been an important part of religious life in many faiths, including:

  • Christianity  the sacrifices of Lent
  • Greek Orthodox Christianity  the fasting periods of the Nativity Fast, Lent and the Assumption
  • Islam – the Muslim holy month of Ramadan
  • Judaism  fasting on Yom Kippur and certain other days of the year that mark sad events, such as Tishah B’Av.

Fasting is not just a religious activity. People also fast for political, or health and wellbeing reasons.

I have asthma. Is it safe to fast?

There is not a lot of evidence to suggest that avoiding foods during fasting periods causes problems if you have asthma, although more research is needed.

But if you choose not to take your medicines exactly as prescribed as part of your fast this can cause your asthma symptoms to get worse – for example, if you stop using your inhaler(s) because you believe that using one would break your fast, or you use them at different times to the prescribed times. 

In fact, stopping or changing how you use your medicines can cause your asthma symptoms to return and increase your risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. Speak to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist before you stop taking your medicines.

Also, if you don’t drink liquids during your fast, be aware that dehydration can dry your airways and may make your asthma worse. This could be particularly true if your asthma is triggered by exercise.

It’s especially important for Muslim people from South Asian communities to look after their asthma during Ramadan. Statistics tell us that people from South Asian communities are generally three times more likely than white people to have an emergency hospital admission for their asthma, despite the fact that the incidence of asthma in South Asian communities is actually lower than in the white population. 

I’m fasting for Ramadan – will asthma medicine break my fast?

In Ramadan fasting is the complete abstinence from food and drink between dawn and dusk. Anyone who is ill or frail, as well as pregnant or menstruating women, breastfeeding mothers and travellers don’t need to fast during Ramadan.

Although Islamic rules state that people with long-term health conditions such as asthma are allowed not to fast, some Muslims with asthma still choose to fast during Ramadan, and many of them may consider that using an inhaler is breaking their fast.

Many religious leaders agree that if you have a long-term health condition such as asthma, you should carry on taking your medicine when you’re fasting. Also, it’s generally agreed by many religious leaders that asthma medicines taken in inhaler form do not break a fast.

The decision to fast is up to you, but speak to your doctor first if you’re planning to stop taking your asthma medicines. 

Adjusting your asthma medicine to suit your fast

It’s important to discuss your plans for fasting with your doctor or asthma nurse before making any decisions to change the way you take your asthma medicines.

  • Don’t stop taking your asthma medicine without speaking to your doctor first.
  • Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about whether it’s possible to adjust your medicine to suit your fast. “For example, they may change your prescription to a long-acting preventer medicine,” says Asthma UK helpline nurse specialist Caroline Fredericks. “Or you can discuss changing the times you take your medicines so you don’t need to take them during daylight hours.”
  • If you get any asthma symptoms after you’ve adjusted your medicines for fasting, see your doctor or asthma nurse straight away.

Look after your asthma when you fast

To help make sure your asthma is well managed while you fast, you should have a written asthma action plan which you fill out with your doctor or asthma nurse. This plan can include details of what to do when you’re fasting, such as:

  • When and how much of your asthma medicine to take
  • How to know when your asthma is getting worse, and what to do if it does
  • What to do if you have an asthma attack.

Our top tips to stay well with your asthma during your fast

  • If you notice that your asthma symptoms are getting worse seek medical help straightaway. If you’re not taking your asthma medicines or you have adjusted your medicines during your fast, you could be at risk of an asthma attack.
  • Always carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times. Even if you have agreed with your doctor not to use your preventer inhalers during the fasting period, your reliever inhaler could save your life if you have an asthma attack. Most religious leaders agree that using an inhaler does not break your fast.
  • If you’re due an annual asthma review when you’re fasting, don’t just skip it. Book one before you fast (or if this isn’t possible, soon after you stop fasting) so that your GP or asthma nurse can see how you’re doing.
  • If you would rather not use your preventer inhalers in daylight hours when you’re fasting, speak to your doctor or asthma nurse about taking your preventer inhaler before sunrise and after sunset.
  • Before you fast, drink plenty of fluids to help prevent your airways drying out during the fast, which can make your asthma worse.   

For more advice speak to:

  • Your GP or asthma nurse
  • An asthma nurse specialist on our Helpline: 0300 222 5800 (9am-5pm, Monday to Friday)

 

Last updated April 2019

Next review due April 2022