Mike Morgan, National Clinical Director for Respiratory for NHS England
We are getting to that time of year where sniffs, coughs, colds and sneezes start to become the sounds of everyday life. And while for most of us, a cough or a cold might mean a day or two off work, for those with respiratory disease or the frail elderly, it could mean a lengthy stay in hospital.
Each winter we see an increase in the number of people needing to be admitted to hospital. We know that there have always been big increases in hospital attendances for respiratory conditions in the winter, which will not come as a surprise to most, but recent analysis by NHS England shows of all the types of illnesses that prompt admission to hospital over the winter months, respiratory disorders peak to twice the summer level.
In the elderly and the most vulnerable, minor respiratory illness, such as the common cold, can prompt care needs that compound their frailty. Those with existing chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD are particularly vulnerable. The cold weather and viral infections such as the flu often leads to deterioration with patients needing more care and support than usual.
Influenza is highly infectious and spreads rapidly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are carrying the virus. Some groups such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those who have existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable and because it is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t help.
It is very important these groups, and people with existing respiratory conditions to protect themselves and get a flu jab. It’s free to those who are eligible and can help prevent a stay in hospital.
I’ve worked as a respiratory specialist for the NHS for 30 years and have seen thousands of patients who with help and support have become expert at managing their own condition. Like them, I know that most respiratory crises can be dealt with at home or in community setting. Patients with COPD and asthma should all have self-management and action plans in place. The action plan should include information about asthma medicines and will help patients recognise when their symptoms are getting worse and what steps to take.
My message to my patients and the public is simple: look after yourself this winter.
If you know someone who is frail or elderly or has an existing health problem and they are feeling unwell, encourage them to seek early advice, go to their local pharmacy or GP before one problem leads to another and they end up in hospital.
For people with existing lung conditions, over the winter months it is important to follow your self-management plan and seek help if you are uncertain.
Mike Morgan is National Clinical Director for Respiratory for NHS England, consultant respiratory physician at the Department of Respiratory Medicine, Allergy and Thoracic Surgery at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust at Glenfield Hospital and Honorary Professor at the University of Leicester.