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How to get ready for winter 2020

With all the changes in guidance on what you can and can’t do, it can be confusing to know what you should be doing to protect yourself from getting ill this winter. In this blog, our medical director Nick, explains what you can do to get ready for winter 2020. 

For some, 2020 has meant social shielding and staying at home for many weeks. For others, strict social distancing and a huge change to everyday life. While we all adjust to a new way of living, it can be difficult knowing what you should and shouldn’t be doing to stay safe. As winter approaches, this is even more important as regular cold and flu viruses spread among the community.

There are things you can do this winter to help protect yourself and others from catching viruses, including the coronavirus.

Get your free flu vaccine as soon as possible

This year, the NHS are rolling out their biggest ever flu campaign. More people than ever will be offered the vaccine for free, to try and reduce the spread of the flu and to avoid more people becoming unwell. People who will be offered the flu jab for free include:

  • those aged 65 and over
  • under 65s who live with a long-term health condition, including lung disease
  • those who live with someone on the shielding list
  • pregnant women
  • carers
  • people living in care homes
  • health and social care staff

The NHS is aiming to be able to extend the free vaccine to include the 50 – 64 age group in November and December. If you find you can’t get your flu vaccine yet because your GP or pharmacy doesn’t have enough supply, don’t panic and keep trying. The NHS has enough stock to go around, and the phasing is to make sure those who are most vulnerable have access to the vaccine first. If your GP doesn’t have the supply, you can go to any pharmacy offering NHS flu vaccinations. They should be able to tell you when they expect to offer you a vaccine.

It’s understandable that you might be nervous about visiting a doctor’s surgery or a pharmacy to get your vaccine. Places offering the flu vaccine will be following appropriate measures to make sure you are safe. This could include careful appointment planning to minimise waiting times and social distancing measures like using your car as a waiting room. If you’re unsure about how you’ll get the jab locally, you could call your GP surgery to find out what your options are.

Quit smoking

People who smoke are five times as likely to get flu and twice as likely to get pneumonia. Quitting smoking now will reduce the risk to yourself and reduce the winter burden on the NHS. Stopping smoking also rapidly reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Observe social distancing with anyone you don’t live with

In order to reduce the chance of catching COVID-19, it’s important you keep your distance from anyone you don’t live with. Try to keep at least 2 metres (3 steps) away from other people, and in situations where you can’t, you should wear a face covering. Remember it’s now mandatory to wear a face covering in shops and on public transport.

Wearing a mask is a really important way we can protect each other from spreading infections, including flu, COVID-19 and other viruses. Most people with a lung condition are able to wear a mask. They are not harmful. If you find it uncomfortable, practice wearing one for short periods to help you get used to it. But if you have a lung condition that makes you feel breathless, and wearing a face covering increases the sensation of breathlessness to the point you can’t tolerate wearing one, you don’t have to. Take a look at our web page for the most up to date information on face coverings

Wash your hands often

Make sure you regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, and use hand sanitiser if you’re out and about. Always wash your hands before eating and when you get in from being outside. Try to not touch your face with unwashed hands.

Remember, Hands, Face, Space! This means wash your hands, cover your face and leave space between you and people you don’t live with.

Understand your risk from COVID-19

An important factor for preparing for winter this year is understanding your level of risk. Everyone’s risk is different, and your own level of risk of catching and becoming ill with coronavirus is affected by interacting factors. That’s why it’s hard to give blanket information about the level of risk from having a lung condition. Your lung condition may play a part in your level of risk from coronavirus, but your risk is also affected by other things too, such as your age, your weight and where you live.

During winter, you may need to make decisions about whether to visit family or friends, use public transport or go back to work. Part of deciding whether or not to do something is down to your attitude to risk. It might be helpful to think about how much you’d benefit from going somewhere and how much you could potentially be exposed. Do remember that whatever you do, you should always follow government rules for the area you are in.

It’s important to remember it’s OK to say no. It’s reasonable to ask in advance what the arrangements will be. You could ask:

  • how many people will be there?
  • how big is the space?
  • what are the bathroom arrangements?

If you don’t feel comfortable going somewhere, don’t feel pressured to go. It’s important you’re always following the advice that’s specific to you and your area. For the most up to date guidance, take a look at our coronavirus hub or the NHS website.

Make sure you’re prepared to look after your condition

It’s important you feel able to manage and look after your condition. For advice specific to your condition, take a look at our website. There’s information on COPD, bronchiectasis, pulmonary fibrosis and other conditions. 

If you have COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, have a look at our patient passports to see what you should expect from your treatment. Take our COPD online passport now, or you can order a free printed copy of a pulmonary fibrosis or COPD passport from our online shop.

Make sure you know how to use your inhalers properly. Asthma UK has instructional videos on how to use various types of inhalers.

Although a lot of the way care is delivered has changed because of COVID-19, the NHS is there for you if you need it. If you’re feeling unwell make sure you ask for help. Hospitals have learnt a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, so it will be safe to visit A&E if you need to.

Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical director at the British Lung Foundation.

Dr Nicholas Hopkinson

Nick is our medical director, reader in respiratory medicine at Imperial College and consultant physician at Royal Brompton Hospital.

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1 October 2020

Last medically reviewed: September 2020. Due for review: September 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.