How To Still Enjoy Bonfire Night If You’ve Got Asthma

School nurse Nicola Pearson, 45, found herself unable to breathe during a fireworks display. Here's how to stay safe while enjoying Bonfire Night festivities.

A woman with asthma is warning others to be aware of the risks this Bonfire Night, after a “frightening experience” left her struggling to breathe.

Nicola Pearson, 45, a school nurse practitioner from Preston, explained how smoke got into her lungs a few years ago during a fireworks display, which triggered an asthma attack.

“My chest felt tight and I was coughing,” she recalled. “It was a really frightening experience and I had to leave.”

Last year, charity Asthma UK saw a 20% surge in calls to its helpline over Bonfire Night and the surrounding weekends, compared to the previous week. And in November 2017, figures show more than 7,600 people were admitted to hospital with asthma in the UK, compared to 7,100 the month before.

The health charity is calling on people with asthma to be careful when attending firework displays this year, when pollution levels are higher than normal.

Nicola Pearson

Dr Gary Fuller, from King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group, previously told HuffPost UK fireworks create a lot of small particles which create localised air pollution – a major trigger for 61% of people with asthma in the UK.

“You can think of them in some ways as soot and smoke,” he said. “The colours that you see in the sky, the chemicals that propel the fireworks up into the air and the explosives contain a lot of toxic chemicals.”

If it’s a cold, clear evening, fireworks night can be “the most polluted night of the year in the UK,” Dr Fuller said, adding: “Concentrations of particle pollution can be up there in the many hundreds of micrograms per cubic metre, approaching the sorts of concentrations that could be seen in Beijing on a bad day.”

People with asthma have inflamed airways, which means when they come into contact with triggers such as firework and bonfire smoke, their airways become even more inflamed and tighten. This causes symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, and leaves them struggling to breathe.

Asthma attacks are a frightening experience for sufferers, and it’s thought one occurs every 10 seconds in the UK.

With Bonfire Night fast approaching, Asthma UK is urging people with asthma to ensure they carry their reliever inhaler (which is usually blue) at all times. Take preventer medicines as prescribed, they advise, and if you find that smoke is making you cough, stand well back and admire the fireworks from a distance.

If it’s cold, wrap a thin scarf loosely over your nose and mouth, which will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in. And make sure friends and family know what to do and when to get help, if your symptoms suddenly get worse.

Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP, said: “Whatever the time of year, people with asthma are more resilient to triggers like cold air or pollution when their asthma is well managed."

People with asthma can help lower their risk of an attack by taking their medicine as prescribed, going for an asthma review with a GP or asthma nurse at least once a year, and using a written asthma action plan.

Dr Whittamore added: “It’s really important that you see your GP or asthma nurse if you notice your symptoms are getting worse or if you’re using your reliever inhaler more than three times a week.”

Pearson continues to enjoy firework displays but makes sure she’s prepared for all eventualities. “I love fireworks and don’t want to miss out on the fun, so I carry my reliever inhaler in my coat pocket and keep a scarf wrapped loosely around my mouth and nose,” she says.

“That way I can join in the festivities but also stay safe.”