Winter advice for patients with chronic conditions

You are more vulnerable to illness in winter if you have a chronic condition.

Cold weather and viral infections such as flu or COVID-19 can cause a range of health complications. It's important you make sure you're prepared.

On this page you'll find advice for managing the following conditions during winter:

  • asthma
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • chronic kidney disease
  • heart failure

Asthma

Viral infections such as flu can make asthma worse. You should get the pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine and the annual flu vacccine.

Take your asthma medicine as prescribed by your GP. It will help you control your asthma better and may help prevent an asthma attack.

Always carry your blue reliever inhaler. It will help to open your airways when you're having asthma symptoms.

Have an up-to-date asthma action plan to help you manage your asthma. It can help you identify symptoms and decide if you need a check-up.

Asthma and COVID-19

Having asthma may put you at higher risk of serious illness if you get COVID-19 (coronavirus). Get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect yourself.

Read more about asthma and COVID-19

COPD

If you have COPD and catch a winter virus such as flu it can cause a flare-up. If this happens you may need emergency care from your GP or the emergency department (ED).

You should get the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (to protect against pneumonia).

Check with your pharmacist or GP that you are on the correct medicine and can use inhalers properly. Many patients with COPD have difficulty with inhalers. This is a good time to make sure you are using them properly. Your pharmacist or GP can show you how.

Look out for warning signs of a flare-up, including:

  • having more phlegm than normal
  • having phlegm which is a different colour
  • being short of breath

You should have a self-management plan or action plan to deal with a flare-up. This usually involves a course of antibiotics and steroids.

You can also get support from the Asthma Society of Ireland's COPD adviceline on 1800 832 146

COPD and COVID-19

You may be at higher risk of serious illness if you get COVID-19 (coronavirus). Get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect yourself.

Read more about COPD and COVID-19

Cancer treatment

If you have cancer and are treated with chemotherapy, you are more likely to get infections. This is because you have a weakened immune system.

Infections are usually caused by viruses and bacteria. These can come from the environment, surfaces, water or food. Many are passed from one person to another.

Common infections include:

How to prevent infection during your chemotherapy treatment

Use the following steps to protect yourself from infection:

  • Prepare - watch out for a temperature.
  • Prevent - clean and protect your hands.
  • Protect - know the signs and symptoms of infection.

Read more about how to protect yourself from infection if you are having chemotherapy treatment

Cancer patients and COVID-19

Having cancer may put you at a higher risk of serious illness if you get COVID-19 (coronavirus). Some cancer treatments can cause a weak immune system. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can help protect you.

Read more about cancer and COVID-19

Diabetes

If you have diabetes getting a winter virus like flu can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall. In some cases, this can leave your open to serious conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These can be a risk to your health.

You should:

  • take your medicine as prescribed
  • get the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (to protect against pneumonia)
  • get in touch with the Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN) team if you are experiencing illness or out of range blood sugars

Read more about what to do if you have diabetes and get sick

Diabetes and COVID-19

If you get infected with COVID-19 you may be more at risk of serious complications. Get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect yourself.

Read more about diabetes and COVID-19

Chronic kidney disease

Get the flu vaccine. This is the best protection against the flu for at-risk groups.

If you are on haemodialysis, do not miss dialysis sessions, even during bad weather conditions. You should have alternative travel arrangements or backup travel plans in case of local road disruptions.

Contact your hospital to find out any change in operating times or deferrals due to severe weather conditions.

Keep several days’ supply of medicines. This is in case there's an emergency or you're unable to get to your GP or pharmacy.

Chronic kidney disease and COVID-19

You are at a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 (coronavirus) if you:

  • have chronic kidney disease
  • are receiving dialysis treatment
  • have had a kidney transplant

Get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect yourself.

Read more about kidney disease and COVID-19

Heart failure

Cold weather makes the heart work harder to keep the body warm. Your heart rate and blood pressure may increase.

These changes can lead to difficulties, especially if you already have a heart condition such as heart failure.

You should:

  • stay warm and be careful when going out, particularly in fog or low cloud
  • wear layers of clothing, a hat and scarf if you do go out
  • keep active and develop a routine of exercise which is possible in cold weather, for example walking in covered areas or using treadmills or stationary bikes

If you feel you may be coming down with a cold or the flu, do not wait for it to get worse. Phone your GP or pharmacist immediately. Ask them about the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (to protect against pneumonia).

Take your medicines regularly as prescribed and monitor your heart failure symptoms every day. Take action immediately if you notice any deterioration. Your doctors can then adjust your treatment to improve or stabilise your symptoms.

Heart conditions and COVID-19

If you have heart disease, you need to take extra care to protect yourself from COVID-19. If you get infected with the virus you have a higher chance of developing complications. This may result in you becoming critically ill.

Get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect yourself.

Read more about heart conditions and COVID-19

Keeping well and warm in winter

  • Eat regular hot meals and drink plenty of fluids - this will keep you warm and give you energy to keep active.
  • Keep active indoors.
  • Keep your home warm.
  • Keep several days’ supply of medicines.
  • Ask your relatives and neighbours for help if you need it.
  • Keep emergency contact details in close proximity to your phone.

Staying safe

  • Ensure that you are registered as a vulnerable customer with your water, gas and electricity providers.
  • Know your Eircode.
  • Try to limit walking outside during the cold weather.
  • If you have to go out in icy weather, wear well-fitted shoes with non-slip soles.
  • Consider wearing a personal alarm so that family or neighbours get an alert if you fall.
  • If you have a fall, even a minor one, phone your doctor for a checkup

Fall prevention in your home:

  • Leave a bright light on at night time, ideally one that uses uses an energy saving bulb.
  • Use a non-slip shower or bath mat.
  • Make sure wires or cords (for example, from lamps or telephones) do not cross the ground where you walk.
  • Arrange furniture so that you can easily move around all your rooms.
  • Remove rugs or use non-slip tape or backing so rugs will not slip.
  • Consider installing hand rails on both sides of the stairs

Read more tips for staying well in winter

Read more about going to the emergency department