Warning of Bonfire Night smoke danger for people with lung conditions

Eve, 65, said she has been left 'housebound' every November after having an asthma attack triggered by smoke 15 years ago.

People with lung conditions are urged to take extra precautions during Bonfire Night celebrations as over half surveyed in Scotland say poor air quality triggers their condition.

Asthma + Lung UK warn many could be at risk of a “potentially life-threatening” asthma attack due to a combination of bonfire night smoke, cold air and an abundance of colds and viruses, which can cause symptoms like coughing, breathlessness, and wheezing to flare up and leave people struggling to breathe.

One woman living in East Kilbride said she has been unable to leave the house after November 5 for 15 years after having an asthma attack triggered by bonfire smoke.

Eve, 65, was diagnosed with asthma 30 years ago, though she believes she’s had it since childhood, but it was undiagnosed.

She said: “For a good few days before November 5, and for a while after too, I am housebound, with the windows sealed and the outside doors shut.  

“A few years ago, I made the mistake of leaving the house one smoky bonfire night.

“The smoke triggered an asthma attack, I was coughing so much, I couldn’t even call for help. I just couldn’t get it under control, my chest was tight, and I was struggling to breathe. 

“Luckily, I had my inhaler with me, and this helped bring my symptoms under control, but it was very frightening none the less and it took me a while to recover. 

“I just stay indoors and don’t leave the house at all at the beginning of November and wait for Bonfire Night to be over. It’s just not worth the risk.”  

People with other lung conditions could also be affected.

The charity found that half of people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema, surveyed by the charity said poor air quality made their symptoms worse and three in four said cold air brought them on.
Over 140,000 people in Scotland have a diagnosis of COPD – an umbrella term for a group of lung conditions which cause breathing difficulties and symptoms such as chest tightness and wheezing.  
Temperatures are lower during winter months, meaning those with conditions like asthma or COPD need to take extra precautions to protect themselves as they can be particularly susceptible to the effects of cold weather, finding themselves shorter of breath and coughing more than usual.

Smoke can trigger breathing problems in people with lung conditionsiStock

The most recent official figures show that almost 7,487 people in the UK were admitted to hospital for emergency care in 2021/22 for their asthma symptoms with 562 in November 2021 in Scotland.
The charity says the number of asthma admissions and increase in calls for advice at this time of year are likely due to a combination of cold weather, more viruses and bugs going around, and air pollution, such as bonfire smoke.

Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma and Lung UK Scotland said:  “Fireworks and bonfires can be a great source of fun and entertainment but coupled with the cold and damp weather in November, it can be a dangerous combination for those living with asthma or other lung conditions.  

“Smoke from bonfires and fireworks can stay in the air for quite a long time, creating areas of air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks or symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.  

“We would caution people who find smoke is a trigger to stay indoors on November 5 if possible.

“For those planning to go to a bonfire event, we would advise people to stand well back from the fire, have their reliver inhaler with them and let family and friends know what to do if you do have an asthma attack.

“Remember too that you should always seek emergency medical attention if you have an asthma attack.” 
Asthma + Lung UK Scotland advice for people with lung conditions on Bonfire Night:

  • Take your preventer medicines as prescribed  
  • Always carry your reliever inhaler with you  
  • If you find that smoke is making you cough, stand well back from the fire  
  • Make sure your friends and family know what to do and when to get medical help if your asthma symptoms suddenly get worse.  
  • As cold air can be an asthma trigger, wrap a thin scarf loosely over your nose and mouth to warm the air before you breathe it in  

Asthma + Lung UK has an advice page for those who need information on how to look after themselves on Bonfire Night at: Asthma and fireworks | Asthma + Lung UK (asthmaandlung.org.uk) 

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