People with a lung condition must take special care, says James Cant
AS THE nights draw in and the weather gets colder, we all redraft our to-do lists. Check the car’s tyres for grip. Do the Christmas shopping. Get the boiler serviced so it won’t conk out on New Year’s Day. It’s a bit time-consuming and there are more fun things to do, but you know that it’s better to do them now or you’ll regret it later.
It’s no different with your health. One in five people in Scotland will have a lung disease at some time in their lives, and those who do can find winter a particular challenge. So here are a few thoughts for everyone this winter, whether you have a lung condition or not.
Had a cough for three weeks or more? Time to make a doctor’s appointment.
Almost everyone gets a cold in the winter, but if you have a cough that lasts for more than three weeks it could be a sign of something more serious. It’s probably nothing, but if there is something wrong, the best thing you can do is catch it early.
Double check in case you need a flu jab.
If you’re elderly, pregnant or have a long-term condition like asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD, which includes things like emphysema and bronchitis), make sure to get the flu vaccine. It’s free for people in those groups and their carers, but many people don’t know that they should take this extra step.
Watch the weather and wrap up warm.
Make sure you keep cosy during the chill. Keep your house nice and warm (21°C in the living room, 18°C in the bedroom) and wear multiple layers of clothing. When you’re out and about, make sure you have any medication you need with you – cold air can tighten the airways and make it harder to breathe.
It can be tempting to huddle away inside over winter, but staying active and getting some exercise will help keep you warm, fit and healthy. If you have COPD, be sure to ask your doctor about Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes. These sessions will give you a bit of gentle exercise and help you breathe better – for many people they are life changing.
Make sure you have your prescriptions over Christmas.
With holidays, bad weather and bugs going around over the Christmas period, it can sometimes be tricky to get prescriptions. Make sure you have all the medicines you need by arranging repeat prescriptions with your GP or pharmacist, and if you use non-prescription over-the-counter medicines, be sure to stock up.
If you use medical oxygen and you’re going to other UK nations, arrange your supply there.
If you’re visiting friends and family in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can get your oxygen supply for free while you’re there. Contact Health Facilities Scotland on 0131 275 6860 and they’ll advise you on how to sort it out, but be aware that they normally need four weeks’ notice to guarantee the service. If you’re going abroad for a holiday, you’ll have to arrange your oxygen supply.
Living with COPD? Check you are getting the right care.
Many people who have COPD don’t know what the next steps are supposed to be after they’re diagnosed. It’s worth checking that you’re getting all the help you can from your doctor, and the BLF’s Patient Passport can help you do that. Just fill out a few simple questions and you’ll have a handy sheet to take to your doctor with some questions you can ask. You can fill it in online at www.blf.org.uk/passport or phone our helpline (03000 030 555) for a paper copy.
Above all, Christmas is a time to be with your loved ones and enjoy yourself, and there’s no reason a lung condition has to stop you from doing just that. If you have any questions, worries or concerns, you can ring the BLF Helpline to speak to a trained adviser. You can phone on 03000 030 555, 9am to 5pm, Monday – Friday. It never costs more than a local call, even from a mobile.
• Dr James Cant is head of the British Lung Foundation, Scotland