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More than 3 million people with lung conditions at risk of life-threatening flare-ups due to pollen

Friday 13th May 2022

More than half of people with asthma could be at risk of asthma attacks as grass pollen season strikes, warns Asthma + Lung UK

More than three million people in the UK with lung conditions such as asthma or COPD could struggle to breathe and be at risk of life-threatening asthma attacks and flare-ups due to soaring pollen levels in the UK from Friday, according to leading charity Asthma + Lung UK.

Pollen levels are due to be high across most of the UK this weekend and possible through to the end of next week, according to the Met Office, and these could trigger symptoms such as a tight chest, wheezing and breathlessness in more than half of people living with asthma (59%) and more than a quarter of those living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (27%) who find hay fever triggers their condition, according to new research from Asthma and Lung UK. (1)(2)

People with asthma and other lung diseases like COPD have inflamed or narrowed airways. If they are allergic to pollen and come into contact with it in the air, it can cause the muscles around their airways to tighten, and the lining of the airways to become swollen and inflamed with a build-up of sticky mucus, leaving them struggling to breathe. Asthma attacks can be fatal, with around four people in the UK dying from one every day.

Asthma + Lung UK, the leading charity supporting everyone with a lung condition, is warning everyone with a lung condition that is triggered by pollen to take extra care when pollen levels are high, such as in the next few days, and get top tips on how to manage their condition from its website at asthma.org.uk/pollen.

The charity, which funds groundbreaking research, and campaigns for better treatment and care for those living with lung disease, as well as running support groups and helplines, advises people with lung illness whose symptoms are triggered by pollen to always use their preventer inhaler, if they have one, and carry their reliever inhaler with them at all times. Other tips include staying indoors on high pollen days and keeping an eye on weather forecasts to check pollen levels.

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead for Asthma + Lung UK and a practicing GP, said:

“When pollen levels are at their highest this can be deadly for those with lung conditions like asthma who can suffer serious symptoms and have life-threatening attacks. These attacks can leave people fighting for breath, which can be terrifying, but there are things they can do to look after themselves.

“Using your preventer inhalers as prescribed is important as the medicine reduces sensitivity and swelling in the airways, helping to prevent symptoms such as wheezing and coughing before they even start.

“We also advise people to carry their reliever inhalers every day, especially when they are out and about enjoying the sunshine in case pollen does cause a flare up of their symptoms. Reliever inhalers quickly relax the muscles in the airways and ease symptoms immediately.

“The third thing people can do is to use a steroid nasal spray every day, together with non-drowsy antihistamine tablets to help stop the allergic reaction. People should also check pollen and air pollution forecasts in their local area, so they can avoid going outdoors as much as possible on high pollen days. I would urge anyone with asthma, or another lung condition affected by pollen to follow the advice on the Asthma + Lung UK website, Pollen | Asthma + Lung UK.

Mum-of-two Katrina Clark, 34, from Surrey, worries about her son Freddie, four, who suffers asthma attacks brought on by pollen.

“It’s terrifying seeing your child going through an asthma attack and when it’s triggered by something that’s floating around in the environment, going anywhere becomes risky. I worry that Freddie will have an attack while outside in the playground at school and I can’t be there to help. Sometimes Freddie becomes anxious about it too, so I have to reassure him that he will be fine as long as he has his reliever inhaler with him, and that the teachers will call me if he’s struggling.

“I live in fear that Freddie will end up in hospital or on steroids after a bad asthma attack and am terrified he won’t recover when hay fever season strikes. While other children are out playing in parks during the warmer weather, I am constantly on my guard as hay fever triggers his asthma. He doesn’t just have sore eyes and a runny nose, he ends up wheezing and gasping for breath too. His last bad asthma attack was in March and although I managed to get it under control at home it was terrible seeing him fight to breathe.

“The seasonal changes are also a trigger for me and my other son Kyle, 13, as we have asthma too, but it’s much worse for Freddie. I have to make sure he takes antihistamines, and his GP increases his steroid inhaler if necessary. He ends up in hospital pretty much every year around this time. People often aren’t aware that asthma attacks can actually be fatal, so high pollen levels are a very real threat and I want to warn anyone else with a lung condition triggered by pollen to make sure you are taking your preventer inhaler and following medical advice to stay well. It could save your life.”

A spokesperson for the Met Office said the recent extended spell of dry weather and relatively light winds had been “conducive to high pollen levels” and that this was “likely to continue into next week”, particularly in the south, meaning pollen would continue to linger.

-ENDS-

Notes to Editors:

For information and support visit asthmaandlung.org.uk or call the helpline on 0300 222 5800.

References:

  1. Figures taken from Asthma + Lung UK’s 2021 Asthma survey for which 8300 people living with asthma were questioned about triggers for their condition and 4926 respondents cited pollen as one, which equates to 59.3%
  2. Data from Asthma + Lung UKs 2021-2022 COPD survey, which showed that out of 1774 people living with COPD, 6649 were triggered by pollen, a total of 26.7%.