CAMPAIGNERS have warned over the impact of the cost of living crisis on people with lung conditions as figures reveal that nearly half of all asthma deaths in Scotland occur in winter.
Statistics obtained by the charity Asthma & Lung UK Scotland also show that more than twice as many people died as a result of asthma attacks in January compared to August between 2015 and 2021.
It comes amid fears that people with breathing difficulties will be at increased risk of health complications this winter due to soaring energy costs.
A previous survey by the charity in August found that one in three people in Scotland with lung conditions said their health was already worsening as they cut back on food and heating, with nearly half of respondents at the time saying they planned to switch off their heating completely to cope with spiralling bills.
Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma & Lung UK Scotland, said: “This winter is going to be hard on the people’s lungs, with higher rates of respiratory infections and many people struggling to stay well with colder homes and fewer food choices.
"It is vital that people with lung conditions take extra care particularly as the cost of living begins to bite and many people cut back on meals and warming their homes."
From the end of November to January 8, the National Records of Scotland registered 757 more deaths than usual for the time of year.
This coincided with a surge in respiratory viruses such as flu, Covid, RSV, and Strep A, as well as a spell of sub-zero temperatures and severe strain on A&E departments.
Respiratory viruses and cold air are both major triggers for life-threatening asthma attacks and can make other lung conditions - such as COPD and bronchiectasis - worse.
The data obtained from NRS by Asthma & Lung UK Scotland, covering 2015 to 2021, shows that 40% of all asthma deaths annually, 41% of COPD deaths, and 34% of bronchiectasis deaths occur in the four months from December to March.
Asthma deaths were also 120% higher in January compared to August, with similar increases of 86% and 83% respectively for COPD and bronchiectasis.
The figures also highlight the potential impact of the conditions on the NHS at a time when several health boards including Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Ayrshire & Arran, and Borders, have already paused all non-urgent elective operations to free up beds.
Hospital admissions for COPD were 49% higher in winter than summer, with asthma admissions up by 32%.
The charity is calling for targeted financial support for people living with lung conditions.
Heather Raeburn, a former midwife from Glasgow who has severe asthma said she has been hospitalised every winter since 2011, including one four-week admission in 2015 triggered by influenza.
Ms Raeburn, 50, said: “I only go to A&E when I know it’s serious and I need extra medication which I don’t have at home or can get on prescription.
"Usually when I’m in A&E they don’t let me go home until I’m stabilised which then means a few days staying in hospital. I am really hoping this year will be different as I’m on new medication.
“With the cost-of-living crisis I have been avoiding putting my heating on, but for my health, I have had to put the radiators on, which is a worry when the bills will come in.”
Mr Carter added: “We would strongly encourage people to get the flu, covid and pneumonia vaccines, take their routine medicines as prescribed and make sure that their self-management plans are up to date with their GP and to make an urgent appointment if symptoms get worse.
“We would also stress the importance of keeping warm and eating well.
"Ideally, you would want to be heating your home to 18 degrees, keep warm by wearing layers of clothes, have lots of hot drinks and at eat at least one hot meal a day if you can."