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December 2019

Cold weather threat to people with asthma



New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that there were an estimated 23,200 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2018-19.

More than 39% of all excess winter deaths were caused by respiratory diseases, followed by circulatory diseases (22% in England, 14% in Wales) and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (19% in England, 21% in Wales).

Although the most recent excess winter mortality (EWM) index for England is lower than last year, the five-year ‘moving average’ shows that the steady decreases since the 1950s have levelled off and most recently, increased for the third consecutive year.

The highest number of daily deaths in 2019 coincided with the coldest winter day on 31 January. Weekly deaths peaked in the first week of January 2019, while the weekly consultation rate for influenza-like illnesses was at its highest in the third week of January.

The ONS also reported hundreds of extra deaths occurring on the hottest day of summer, in July 2019 – 1,473 deaths were registered, a 20% increase on the average (1,259) for the same date over the past five years.

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP, said: ‘These figures show the human cost of extreme hot and cold weather spells in England and Wales. It is alarming to see the number of deaths spiked on the 25 July, the day the highest temperature was recorded in the UK.

‘But we know cold weather can be even more deadly for people with asthma. While, it is encouraging to see the number of excess winter deaths fall last winter, people with asthma must not be complacent. Flu and colds can put an estimated 4 million people with asthma at risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack*.

‘If people with asthma don’t get their flu vaccine, they could be putting themselves at risk this winter. People with asthma have the best chance of avoiding an asthma attack if they make sure they take their preventer inhaler as prescribed and keep their reliever inhaler with them in case of an emergency.’

Only half of people with chronic respiratory disease, including asthma, received their flu vaccine last winter. Previous research by Asthma UK found that almost a third of people with asthma (31%) said they weren’t going to have the flu vaccine because they were worried about the side effects. A similar proportion (27%) were sceptical about whether it would work.

For information on how the flu vaccine can help people with asthma visit asthma.org.uk/flu.


*Between June-October 2019, Asthma UK surveyed 12,876 people with asthma through an online survey. Of those surveyed, 75% said that colds and flu were a trigger for their asthma. This figure was applied to the population of people with asthma in the UK (5.4million) to derive the figure of 4 million.