Dr Penny Woods
Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation
Winter is often a magical time of year. For many, it’s a time for celebrating and spending time with family and friends. For others, however, winter can also often be a source of concern and worry.
The UK has one of the highest mortality rates for respiritory conditions in Europe
Respiratory disease is among the leading causes of death worldwide. In the UK, it affects one in five people, and is the third most common form of death. Mortality rates in this country for respiratory conditions are among the highest in Europe.
The winter months are when many patients with lung disease experience worsening symptoms or deterioration in their lung health. It is also the time of year in which many people are diagnosed with a lung condition for the first time.
The most common respiratory condition in the UK is asthma. Easily treatable, it isn’t something that should prevent anyone from leading a normal life if properly managed. Yet the number of reported asthma deaths in the UK remains among the highest in Europe.
COPD is the fifth biggest killer in the UK
The second most common respiratory condition is chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Though many have never heard of it, it is the fifth biggest killer in the UK, claiming the lives of around 30,000 people every year. Despite this shocking figure, awareness remains low – two thirds of people with COPD are thought to be unaware they have the condition, without access to any support or information.
Our lungs are precious and should be protected.
The biggest respiratory killer in the UK is lung cancer. It claims over 35,000 lives every year – half within just six months of diagnosis. While we’ve made significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of other cancers, lung cancer still lags far behind. Survival rates for this cancer in the UK are worse than in the US and rest of Europe. 1 in 3 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in an emergency. For many, this means they will not be able to receive curative treatment.
Smoking causes more than 80 per cent of lung cancers so it is also important that we continue to support smokers to quit, whilst exploring new ways of discouraging young people from taking it up. We must therefore rejoice in this year’s landmark introduction of a ban on smoking in cars with children, and look forward to the introduction of standardised packaging for all tobacco products in May 2016.
Air polloution in Britan leads to respiritory conditions
But it isn’t just those with respiratory problems that should think about keeping their lungs healthy. Tens of thousands of us are at risk of dying early simply because of the air we breathe. Air pollution is a serious problem in this country. Exposure to pollution increases individual risk of lung cancer, impairs child lung development, increases risk of flare ups and hospitalisation among people living with pre-existing lung diseases, and exacerbates health inequalities. We want our government to act now to protect the health of generations to come.
Our lungs are precious and should be protected. Early diagnosis is essential to improving prognosis of respiratory diseases. The earlier respiratory diseases are detected, the easier they are to manage. For far too long respiratory disease has passed under the radar of the government and even health services, but it is clear that it can no longer be ignored. Let’s work together to tackle the burden of lung disease in this country.