People with lung conditions are being urged to take extra care after new analysis found that four in 10 respiratory deaths happen between December and March.
Lung charity Asthma + Lung UK Scotland found that people with asthma are particularly at risk, with an increase of 120% in the number of people dying from the condition in winter compared with summer.
The charity said winter is a dangerous time for people with lung conditions as viruses such as flu and Covid-19, and cold air from plummeting temperatures, are top triggers for life-threatening asthma attacks and can cause other lung conditions to get worse.
Its analysis of six years of data from National Records of Scotland (NRS) found that 43% of respiratory deaths, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occur between December and March.
The charity also found that hospital admissions for respiratory conditions in Scotland increased by more than 75% in winter compared with summer.
It is calling on the Scottish Government to provide extra financial support for those with lung conditions this winter to help them amid the cost-of-living crisis, and is urging such people to take extra care of their health.
Joseph Carter, head of Asthma + Lung UK Scotland, said: “This winter is going to be hard on people’s lungs, with higher rates of respiratory infections and many people struggling to stay well with colder homes and fewer food choices.
“It is vital that people with lung conditions take extra care, particularly as the cost of living begins to bite and many people cut back on meals and warming their homes.
“Worryingly we have found that around one in three people surveyed with lung conditions in Scotland say that their health is worsening as they cut back on food and heating.
“We are calling on the Scottish Government to provide targeted financial support for those with lung conditions to ease the cost-of-living crisis and minimise NHS pressures this winter.
“It is clear from our findings that winter is indeed a worrying time for people with a lung condition and we would strongly encourage people to get the flu, Covid and pneumonia vaccines, take their routine medicines as prescribed and make sure that their self-management plans are up to date with their GP and to make an urgent appointment if symptoms get worse.”
Asthma + Lung UK Scotland analysed NRS data from 2015-2021.
It found that 40% of yearly asthma deaths occur in winter as do 41% of yearly COPD deaths and 34% of those for bronchiectasis.
Heather Raeburn, a former midwife from Glasgow, has severe asthma and since her diagnosis in 2011 has ended up being admitted to hospital every winter.
She spent four weeks in hospital in 2015 due to the effect of influenza on her asthma.
The 50-year-old urged people to take respiratory conditions seriously.
She said: “With the cost-of-living crisis I have been avoiding putting my heating on, but for my health I have had to put the radiators on, which is a worry when the bills will come in.
“My concern is people don’t take asthma seriously enough.
“And my advice would be, if you have asthma and are concerned, speak to a health practitioner, don’t leave it too late if you know something isn’t right.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our Respiratory Care Action Plan sets out our vision for driving improvement in the prevention, diagnosis, care, treatment and support of respiratory conditions including asthma – as well as preventing the development and exacerbation of respiratory illness caused by cold homes.
“We are acutely aware of the impact that the cost-of-living crisis is having for those living with long-term health conditions.
“We are doing everything we can, within our powers and fixed budgets, to support people and have allocated almost £3 billion to mitigate the impact on households.
“This includes £1 billion to provide services and financial support not available elsewhere in the UK, for example Child Winter Heating Assistance. We will also begin paying our new annual Winter Heating Payment in February. This will provide £50 to around 415,000 people on low incomes to help with their heating expenses.”
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