The soaring cost of living is already causing a spike in asthma attacks, even before winter has properly set in, with one in five people with asthma saying that cutting back on medicines, heating and food has worsened their condition.
Research by the charity Asthma + Lung UK has warned that, with 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma, many could be at risk of poorer health as costs soar.
The warning follows concerns that, without more support, the cost of living crisis could also turn into a public health emergency. Physical health issues could be caused by cold houses and cutting back on food and other essentials and mental ill health exacerbated by anxiety about making ends meet.
Asthma + Lung UK surveyed more than 3,600 people with lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis. It also found that half say their condition had worsened since the cost of living crisis began, with many needing emergency treatment.
Even with the government’s energy bill support package, the charity has warned that price hikes and inflation – and now of course concerns over mortgages and rising interest rates – are already having a damaging effect on people with lung conditions.
Cost of living crisis
Calls to the charity’s helpline from people needing advice for help with their finances or benefits have soared by 89% and website traffic has increased by 63%, it said. Almost half (46%) of people with lung conditions surveyed also said they planned to cut back on meals to cope with the increasing fuel costs.
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, the charity warned.
The survey revealed that 90% of people with lung conditions including asthma had already made significant changes to their lives in response to the cost of living crisis. These included:
- almost two thirds (63%) 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%) 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
- 5% say they have borrowed medicines from someone else and 6% have not been getting their prescriptions
- one in 10 (10%) people with lung conditions say they’ve been using medical devices that require electricity, for example nebulisers which help people breathe in medicines, less
- almost three-quarters (74%) plan to heat their homes less, while 45% look set to turn their heating off altogether.
These changes are already having a devastating impact on people’s health, the charity has warned. Almost half of those polled (49%) said their lung condition was now worse because of changes they’ve made, with 20% saying they’ve had an asthma attack or exacerbation, 19% have had to see their GP and 7% have had to seek emergency treatment, for example going to A&E.
Dr Andrew Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma + Lung UK, 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,” he added.