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Winter Asthma

Monday, 16 November 2009

Colder chests in the winter can be tighter for the best of us, but Asthma sufferers may feel the discomfort even more so. Today, we're talking to Dr. Basil Elnazir about why this happens as well as how to prevent it. We'll also be joined by mother and son, Dee Quane and Ben O'Farrell, who talk about facing the cold snap with asthma personally!

Stay Well This Winter
To "Stay Well With Asthma This Winter" the Asthma Society of Ireland urges people with asthma to take the following precautions:
. Keep taking regular medication as prescribed.
. If cold air triggers your asthma take two puffs of your reliever before going out.
. Wrap up well and wear a scarf over nose and mouth.
. Take extra care when exercising in cold weather. Warm up for 10-15 minutes. Take two puffs of your reliever inhaler before you start (please refer to our Reach Your Peak with asthma exercise information pack).

The general objective of the Winter Initiative is to ensure that you maintain optimal control of your asthma.
People with asthma often find that:
. Chest infections,
. Sudden changes in temperature,
. Cold and windy conditions,
. can trigger their symptoms and these can cause problems during the winter months.

Personal Asthma Action Plan
It is important to have a written personal asthma action plan. This is a plan which should be completed by your Doctor or Asthma Nurse in discussion with you and contains the information you need to control your asthma.

This should include information about your
. Asthma medications
. Signs of deterioration in your asthma and what you should do about it.
. Emergency information and what to do if you have asthma attack.
It is important to make sure you have your asthma reviewed at least once a year or sooner if your symptoms are getting worse.

Flu & Swine Flu Vaccine
Flu is caused by the influenza virus which spreads from an infected person to the nose and throat of others. It can cause:
. Fever
. Cough
. Sore throat
. Extreme fatigue
. Muscle aches and pains
It can also lead to pneumonia which can be particularly dangerous to people who have other underlying respiratory conditions.
Having the flu is a major concern. People with asthma are at greater risk from flu & swine flu than others and are listed on the list of people considered high risk of contracting H1N1. Asthma symptoms are often triggered by colds, flu and respiratory infections. It is impossible to avoid catching the common cold but having the flu & swine flu vaccination can help to prevent the virus taking hold.

Autumn is the best time to have vaccinations. As the influenza virus changes rapidly an annual vaccine is required. The flu vaccine has been widely used for many years and is both safe and effective with very few side effects.

Pneumococcal Vaccine
Pneumococcal disease can lead to serious infections of the:
. lungs - pneumonia
. blood - septicemia
. brain - meningitis
People with underlying respiratory disease such as asthma are more at risk of developing complications from the pneumococcal disease. This vaccine is usually given as one injection followed by a final (once only) injection five years later.
Proper hand washing and good dental hygiene are two of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs.

Obtaining the Vaccines
Both the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are available from your GP. The vaccine itself is free; this year anyone over the age of 50 can get the flu and pneumococcal vaccine. At the discretion of the general practitioner, anyone with a chronic heart, lung or kidney condition can also get the vaccines;
Medical card patients should not have to pay for their vaccinations; private patients may have to pay a charge, which in most practices should be a nominal one.

For more information about the Flu and Swine Flu vaccine you can contact the HSE Information Line 1850 24 1850 or on the website or you can contact the Asthma Society of Ireland's helpline on 1850 44 54 64.

Nutritional Information
In the management of asthma, nutrition plays an important role. Good nutrition can:
. help you to feel better
. help to keep the immune system strong
. help ward off colds and the flu, which are common asthma triggers
. If you are overweight it can increase the work load of the lungs making breathing more difficult due to the decreased space in the chest cavity which inhibits the full expansion of the lungs.

An ideal body weight for your height can be maintained by:
. Regular exercise.
. Limiting your intake of fats and foods containing sugar content
. However, being underweight can also affect your health as a decrease in lung function can leave you tired, weak and at a higher risk of developing infections.

The type of food you should be eating as part of a well balanced nutritional diet includes:
. high protein foods example meat/chicken, fish, eggs and cheese.
. plenty of fruit and vegetables.
. copious amounts of fluids, as dehydration can sometimes be linked to asthma attacks

Regular exercise (daily if possible) is recommended for improving everyone's health especially people with asthma.
. It improves their lung capacity
. It strengthens the breathing muscles
. It keeps the airways elastic

Everyone, but especially children and teenagers, gain great benefits from sport because it makes them stronger physically and increases confidence. It is vital to keep asthma well controlled with daily use of preventer medication and warming up exercises prior to activity. This allows the airways to adjust gradually to airflow (for further information see our Reach Your Peak with Asthma exercise information pack)

Asthma Attack Underestimated.
Please do not underestimate your asthma this winter and make sure you are carrying an Asthma Attack Card. Respiratory viruses cause 60% of asthma attacks in adults and 80% in children.

The Asthma Attack Card provides the following information:
How to recognize an Asthma Attack and what steps to take.
You can indicate on the card what your most common signs of an attack are.
Your important contact details.
Your contact details.

To order an Asthma Attack Card contact the Asthma Society of Ireland on 01 8788511 or email

Stop Smoking!
Stopping smoking has many health benefits for the individual and those around them.
Smoking cessation is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. There are great health benefits in giving up no matter how long you have been smoking.

For further information/help:
The Asthma Society of Ireland 1850 44 54 64
National Smokers' Quitline 1850 201 203

"Incidence of Asthma in Ireland
Asthma prevalence is very high in Ireland - we are number four in the world asthma league after Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Estimates vary, but as many as 470,000 individuals in Ireland have the condition.

There has been a very considerable increase in asthma prevalence in developed countries over the last two decades. While asthma tends to run in families, the reason for the increase is not genetic. It is more likely environmental - either due to a great change in the external environment over this period (allergic substances, pollution, smoking) or a change in our bodies' response to the external environment.

. Ireland has the 4th highest prevalence of asthma worldwide
. Approximately 470,000 people affected (1 in 8 of population)
. Prevalence in 13 - 14 year old school children increased by 40% between 1995 to 2003 (15.2% to 21.6%)
. Asthma is the commonest chronic disease in childhood and the most common respiratory condition in Ireland.

Burden of Asthma as a Chronic Disease
. Asthma is consistently in the top 20 diagnoses for admission to hospital
. There are more acute admissions every year for asthma than for myocardial infarction
. 5,347 (average ± 159) admissions per year with principal diagnosis of asthma
. 22,052 (average ± 758) admissions per year with secondary diagnosis of asthma
. On average, there were 23,233 ( ±758) bed days used to treat principal diagnoses of asthma and 103,214 (± 5001) to treat secondary diagnoses of asthma each year between 2000 and 2004
. Average length of stay: age 0 to 19 years 3.3 days/admission; this doubles to 6.6 days in the 55-59 age group and more than trebles for those over 75 years.
. 12% increase in admissions in winter months
. 94% of admissions with principal diagnosis of asthma are through Accident & Emergency (consistent year-on-year). (HIPE data 2000 to 2004)

Stats from a study on Asthma in Ireland (2002)
. 470,000 people in Ireland have asthma - the fourth highest prevalence worldwide
. 90,000 people do not have their symptoms controlled
. Irish adults with asthma lose on average 12 days from work per annum
. Irish children with asthma lose on average 10 days from school per annum
. Hospitalisations
. There are approximately 5,500 asthma-related hospital admissions per year
. Annual A&E visits are four times this figure
. About 55% of these admissions and visits are by children less than 14 years of age
Asthma Deaths
. Almost 80 people die in Ireland every year from asthma - this is more than 1 death per week. 30% of these are under 40 years of age."

1 in 8 affected by Asthma
90,000 people do not have their symptoms under control
Most common chronic disease in childhood
Asthma related hospital admissions increase by 12% in Winter
At least one person dies every week from Asthma in Ireland every year
25% of all hospital swine flu admissions have Asthma