Fasting and asthma

How to manage your asthma well when fasting

If you’re fasting for religious or other reasons, find out everything you need to know about how safe fasting is and how to manage your asthma.

On this page:

What is fasting?

Fasting is willingly avoiding some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time . It is 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 such as Tishah B'Av.

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

Is it safe to fast with asthma?

Evidence shows that avoiding food during fasting periods does not cause problems with asthma.

  • However, it’s important to know: If you choose not to take your asthma medicines as prescribed as part of your fast, this could cause your asthma symptoms to get worse. For example, if you stop using your inhaler(s) because you believe it will break your fast, or you take them at different times to the prescribed times.
  • Stopping 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 asthma medicines.
  • 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.

This happens even though the number of people with asthma in South Asian communities is lower than in the white population.

Will my asthma medicine break my fast during Ramadan?

In Ramadan, healthy adult Muslims do not eat or drink anything between dusk and dawn.

Those who are ill or whose health could be affected by fasting don’t need to fast. For example, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and people with diabetes.

Although Islamic rules state that people with long-term health conditions such as asthma do not have 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 it’s very important to speak to your GP first if you’re planning to stop taking your asthma medicines.

Can I adjust my asthma medicines to suit my fast?

It’s important to discuss your plans for fasting with your GP 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.

Your GP or asthma nurse can tell you whether it’s possible to adjust your medicine to suit your plans during the period you fast. “For example, you could discuss changing the times you take your medicine so you don’t need to take them during daylight hours.” says asthma nurse specialist lead Caroline Fredericks.

If you have adjusted your medicines for fasting and you get any asthma symptoms, see your GP or asthma nurse straight away.

Tips for looking 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 GP 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 five top tips for looking after your asthma while fasting

  • If you notice that your asthma symptoms are getting worse seek medical help straight away. 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. 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 is not 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.

If you have any concerns about asthma and fasting, you can call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 to talk to one of our respiratory nurse specialists (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm). You can also message them on WhatsApp on 07378 606 728.

 

Last updated April 2021

Next review due April 2024

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