Bonfire night: Charity warns of 'deadly' combination for asthmatics

Bonfire night warning for millions of asthmatics: Charity fears a ‘deadly’ triple whammy of firework smoke, cold air and seasonal viruses

  • Asthma and Lung UK says fireworks can cause life-threatening asthma attacks
  • Experts say the event can bring on coughing, breathlessness and wheezing 
  • Around 7,600 people were hospitalised for asthma symptoms last November 

Millions of asthmatics were today warned bonfire night might be ‘deadly’ and told to be extra careful when celebrating this weekend.

Asthma and Lung UK said the triple whammy of smoke, cold air and seasonal viruses could trigger life-threatening attacks.

The charity urged sufferers who are worried about the potential threat to avoid going to firework displays and stay indoors if possible.

Around 5.4million people are thought to have have asthma in the UK, while 25million live with the incurable condition in the US.

Sufferers can use reliever inhalers to quickly widen their airways during flare-ups and are supposed to take their preventer inhalers daily to stop flare-ups.

Bonfire night causes a ‘deadly’ combination of firewood smoke, cold air and viruses for asthmatics, charities warned today. Michelle Wainwright-Hicks (pictured in hospital following an asthma attack on the night three years ago), 48, from Derbyshire, was diagnosed with breathing pattern disorder, which doctors believe was brought on by the medical episode

Ms Wainwright-Hicks’s children Beth, 21, and twins Jake and Isaac, 10, (pictured together, with their inhalers) also have asthma, so 5 November is always a worrying time of year for her

Asthma is a common but incurable condition which affects the small tubes inside the lungs.

It can cause them to become inflamed, or swollen, which restricts the airways and makes it harder to breathe.

The condition affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood. Symptoms may improve or even go away as children grow older, but can return in adulthood.

Symptoms include wheezing, breathlessness, a tight chest and coughing, and these may get worse during an asthma attack.

Treatment usually involves medication which is inhaled to calm down the lungs.

Triggers for the condition include allergies, dust, air pollution, exercise and infections such as cold or flu.

If you think you or your child has asthma you should visit a doctor, because it can develop into more serious complications like fatigue or lung infections.

Source: NHS  

Asthma attacks can be fatal, with around four people in the UK dying from one every day. 

Smoke, pollution and cold air can cause the airways to tighten up and a build-up of sticky mucus, making it harder to breathe.

More than 7,600 people in Britain were admitted to hospital for emergency care for their asthma symptoms in November last year.

Emma Rubach, head of health advice at Asthma and Lung UK, said: ‘Fireworks and bonfire displays might be fun.

‘But if you have asthma triggered by smoke, they could land you in hospital. 

‘Smoke fumes from burning wood and fireworks can linger in the air for hours, creating localised pollution which can cause asthma attacks or lead to a worsening of symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing and coughing for those with asthma.

‘Cold air due to the drop in temperatures can also make symptoms worse, meaning that next week people with asthma or other lung conditions could face a dangerous combination of triggers.’

The charity said asthma sufferers planning to go to a Bonfire Night event should take their preventer medicines as prescribed.

People with asthma should take their reliever inhalers with them and stand well back from the fire if the smoke is making them cough.

They should also ensure the friends or family they go with are aware of what to do if an asthma attack is happening. 

The charity also recommends wearing a thin scarf over the nose and mouth to warm the air that is being breathed in, preventing it being too cold and triggering symptoms.

Ms Rubach said: ‘If you have a lung condition and are worried, the best thing you can do is take your medicines as prescribed, especially your preventer inhaler as this builds up protection in your lungs. 

‘We would advise you to consider staying indoors if fireworks have brought on your asthma symptoms before.

‘But if you are planning to go to a display, stand well back from bonfires and make sure you have your reliever inhaler with you to relieve symptoms as they come on and that people you are with know what to do in an asthma attack.’

Mother-of-three, 48, left with debilitating breathlessness three years after suffering asthma attack during Bonfire Night

Michelle Wainwright-Hicks, 48, from Derbyshire, as struck by a severe asthma attack at Bonfire Night three years and is still living with the effects today

A mother-of-three struck by a severe asthma attack on Bonfire Night three years is still battling the after-effects today.

Michelle Wainwright-Hicks, 48, from Derbyshire, had to go to hospital after suffering a flare-up in 2019.

She is still left unable to get out of bed some mornings and reducing how much she moves or talks now in case she has another attack.

Doctors diagnosed her with with a breathing pattern disorder they believe was brought on by the medical episode.

Her children, Beth, 21, and twins Jake and Isaac, 10, also have asthma, so November 5 is always a worrying time of year for her. 

Michelle said: ‘Smoke is a major trigger for me and ever since I had an asthma attack following a bonfire display three years ago, my asthma has been so bad at times I’ve been unable to wash or dress myself because I get so breathless. 

‘I was at a firework display with my children and suddenly I felt my chest tightening up and became breathless. 

‘It was a struggle for me to get myself home and the next day I was still finding it so hard to breathe that my husband Marcus had to call for an ambulance.’ 

Michelle spent a day in hospital recovering from the asthma attack and was later diagnosed with a breathing pattern disorder — when the body can suddenly start hyperventilating, causing a higher level of stress.

She says her respiratory physiotherapist told her it was likely to have been caused by the asthma attack. 

Pictured: The inhalers and medication used by Ms Wainwright-Hicks and her children Beth, 21, and twins Jake and Isaac, ten,

‘I dread Bonfire Night and am on a knife’s edge around this time of year,’ she added. 

‘My asthma used to be reasonably well controlled, and I was able to cycle, go walking, play, laugh, and have fun with my family. 

‘After the attack in November 2019, I was left completely debilitated. Some days I felt so ill and breathless I was unable to get out of bed. 

‘Throughout 2020, there were times I could only walk very short distances, found it difficult to talk, and couldn’t carry anything.’

She added: ‘I had several more asthma attacks and stays in hospital that year, and even now I still feel the effects of it.

‘I have to moderate how much I move or talk, and on bad days our children aren’t even allowed to make me laugh in case it brings on an asthma attack. 

‘I know that some people with asthma can enjoy firework displays without having an asthma attack, but for me that one Bonfire Night has had a terrible long-term impact, and I want to make people aware of the risks.’

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