Health professionals are advising people with long term conditions to take extra precautions to look after their health this winter.

Winter conditions can be seriously bad for our health, especially for people aged 65 or older, and people with long-term conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, diabetes or heart or kidney disease.

Being cold can raise the risk of increased blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

The cold and damp weather, ice, snow and high winds can all aggravate any existing health problems and make us more vulnerable to respiratory winter illnesses. But there are lots of things you can do to manage your conditions and stay well.

Professor Matt Phillips, Associate Medical Director at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, said:  “People with long-term health condition really need to look after themselves as poor weather and colder temperatures can worsen your symptoms. The winter is likely to be very challenging for many so people need to plan ahead - make sure they have the medication they need and get vaccinated as this will help reduce the likelihood of needing urgent medical attention.”

The following simple steps will help you not only look after yourself but also understand how to use NHS Services in the most effective way for you.

  • Get a flu jab? It can protect you all winter. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to get the flu jab. If you are in a risk group, are pregnant or aged over 65 or over, it is really important to get vaccinated; contact your GP surgery and make an appointment. The flu virus strikes in winter and it can be far more serious than you think. Flu can lead to serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and it can be deadly. That’s why the flu jab is free if you’re aged 65 or over, or if you have a long-term health condition. If you have children or grandchildren they too may also be eligible for a free flu vaccination.  And if you are the main carer of an older or disabled person you may also be eligible for the free flu jab. Just speak to your GP or pharmacist.

Also, don’t forget that if you’re aged 65 or over, you are eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which will help protect you from pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia. For more information on staying well this winter visit nhs.uk/flujab.

  • If you feel unwell don’t wait – get advice from your nearest pharmacist

At the first sign of a winter illness, even if it’s just a cough or cold, get advice from your pharmacist, before it gets more serious. Act quickly. The sooner you get advice from a pharmacist the better. Pharmacists are fully qualified to advise you on the best course of action.

This can be the best and quickest way to help you recover and get back to normal.

If you can’t get to a pharmacist yourself, ask someone to go for you or call your local pharmacy. You can find out which pharmacies are close to you by visiting the NHS Choices website

  • Think ahead. Make sure that you have enough medication to last when your GP surgery may be closed. It’s important that you book any routine appointments with your practice in plenty of time and ensure that you have enough medication to last you over these times. Don’t use A&E as a back-up pharmacy, plan ahead.
  • Know when NHS services near your home are open. A&E and GP aren’t your only options. Check out NHS Choices for your nearest pharmacy, walk-in centre or minor injuries unit. It’s better to do this first, rather than face a long wait in A&E. Alternatively if it’s urgent, but not an emergency and you’re not sure what to do, call NHS 111.
  • Cold outside? It’s the perfect excuse to eat well and wrap up warm. Keep warm inside and out, by keeping active and having regular hot drinks and nutritious meals. If you have breathing problems even a small change in temperature can affect you. So take extra care. Citizens Advice Bureau Carlisle and Eden can help advising around available benefits. Call 03300 563 037 if you need advice.
  • A&E is only for emergencies.  The right NHS services are everywhere – we just need to stop and think – and then choose the right one.