AROUND ONE IN FIVE PEOPLE WITH ASTHMA surveyed by lung charity Asthma + Lung UK say the soaring cost of living has caused life-threatening asthma attacks as they cut back on medicines, heating and food.

The charity, which surveyed more than 3,600 people with lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis, also found that one in two say their condition had worsened since the cost of living crisis began, with many needing emergency treatment.

Asthma + Lung UK warns that with winter already the deadliest season for people with lung conditions, there could be a tidal wave of hospital admissions for people with lung conditions as cold weather, an abundance of viruses and people cutting back on medicines, heating, food and electricity puts them at risk.

With further increases to energy bills which came into force on 1 October, food prices rising by an average of almost £500 per year and prescriptions costing some people with asthma more than £400 a year according to previous research, the charity is urgently calling for tailored financial support to help people with lung conditions stay well this winter.

Asthma + Lung UK has warned that price hikes are already having a damaging effect on people with lung conditions with calls to the charity’s helpline from people needing advice for help with their finances or benefits soaring by 89 per cent and website traffic increasing by 63 per cent.

The survey revealed that 90 per cent of people with lung conditions including asthma have already made significant changes to their lives in response to the cost of living crisis. These include:

  • Almost two thirds (63 per cent) are buying and eating less food, which can lower people’s immunity, putting them at increased risk of viruses that are the top trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Almost one in six (15 per cent) are cutting back on using their inhaler to make it last longer, even though using a preventer inhaler every day is the best way for people to manage their asthma and prevent attacks.
  • Five per cent say they have borrowed medicines from someone else and six per cent have not been getting their prescriptions.
  • One in 10 (10 per cent) people with lung conditions say they have been making less use of medical devices which require electricity, for example nebulisers which help people breathe in their medicines.
  • Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) plan to heat their homes less, while 45 per cent look set to turn their heating off altogether.

These changes are having a devastating impact on people’s health. Almost half (49 per cent) say their lung condition is worse because of changes they’ve made, Twenty per cent say they have had an asthma attack or exacerbation, Nineteen per cent have had to see their GP and seven per cent have had to seek emergency treatment, for example by going to A&E.

One person who has recently noticed a serious decline in his health is Ben Robinson from North London, who has severe asthma and COPD which he helps to manage by using a nebuliser. He has cut back on fresh food and, with his energy bills already a third of his income, he is worried he will have to cut back on using his nebuliser too.

“I’m genuinely worried that the cost of living rises are going to send me to an early grave. I’ve been hospitalised many times in winter because cold air and colds and viruses trigger my asthma and leave me fighting for breath. I’m already thinking I might have to cut back on using my nebuliser and if I have to cut back on heating too, I know I’ll end up in hospital again.”

Both his respiratory conditions, along with other health problems, mean Ben has not been able to work for several years and he is currently reliant on Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment. He was recently hospitalised after experiencing a severe asthma attack a few weeks ago, and is currently recovering at home. Getting out and about is now very difficult, so he spends most of his time at home by himself:

“There’s a lot of anxiety bubbling in me about how I’m going to be afford the electricity needed to keep running my nebuliser. I’m constantly worrying about money. My lung condition’s getting worse, partly because I feel so stressed all the time – I’ve already been hospitalised this month and I’m worried I’ll end up in hospital again if I have to cut down on using my nebuliser medication. I’m also not eating well at the moment because I’m buying cheaper food.”

He is dreading how he’ll cope when temperatures plummet: “I try not to think about how I’ll manage this winter. If I’m cold, I’m prone to chest infections and I can and will have more flare-ups that may land me in hospital. It’s a constant worry.”

Dr Andrew Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma + Lung UK and a practicing GP, said: “Winter is the deadliest season for people with lung conditions. Cold homes are very dangerous for people with lung conditions because they provide the perfect environment for respiratory infections to thrive. Cold air is a trigger for life-threatening asthma attacks and COPD flare-ups. In the longer-term, cold homes are a hotbed for mould and damp, which alongside cold air are also common lung triggers. Breathing in mould spores can also cause a lung condition called aspergillosis, which can cause shortness of breath, wheeze, weight loss and a high temperature.”

Almost half (46 per cent) of people with lung conditions surveyed say they plan to cut back on meals to cope with the increasing fuel costs. Eating healthy food that contains vitamins and minerals supports the immune system, helping to prevent chest infections and this is vital for people living with lung conditions. This situation is untenable and Asthma + Lung UK is urging the government to provide targeted financial support to help people with lung conditions with the rising cost of bills and living.

Sarah Woolnough, CEO of Asthma + Lung UK, said: “Untenable cost of living hikes are forcing people with lung conditions to make impossible choices about their health. Warm homes, regular medicine and a healthy diet are all important pillars to good lung condition management – but they all come at a cost. We are hearing from people already reporting a sharp decline in their lung health, including many having life-threatening asthma attacks. With temperatures beginning to fall and further energy price hikes looming, we’re seriously worried that when winter bites it will tip the country into a public health crisis.

“Lives are at risk if the government doesn’t step in to help people with lung conditions, including ending unfair prescription charges and providing financial support for people who face extra energy bills for medical equipment. As part of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, we are calling on the UK government to provide more support for people on low incomes so they can afford to keep their homes warm this winter.”

Advice and support on the cost of living for people living with a lung condition is available here. Alternatively, call the helpline on 0300 222 5800

* Source: Asthma + Lung UK