Asthma and COVID

January 19, 2021

Dr Chase Ng Peng Yun, a junior doctor, shares his advice for people living with asthma during COVID-19.

More than 5 million people in the UK are currently living with asthma that they take treatment for. Asthma is different for everyone, from mild wheezing to severe breathing problems, and there are many treatments and triggers.

As far as we know, having asthma doesn’t make it more likely that you will catch COVID-19. But people with severe asthma and asthma that is not well controlled may be more likely to become seriously ill with the disease.

If you’re living with asthma, here are some tips to help you stay safe and healthy during COVID-19.

Protect yourself and others

Reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 or spreading it to others by following local restrictions, maintaining social distancing, using a face covering where needed if you are able, and following good hygiene practices such as regular hand washing and cleaning surfaces. 

Be alert for the early signs of COVID-19 by downloading the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app and spending just a minute every day logging your health. 

As well as the three ‘classic’ signs of COVID-19 (cough, fever and loss of smell), look out for other important symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, diarrhea and sudden confusion (delirium).

If you think you might have COVID-19, it’s vital that you self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible. 

Take care of your health

It’s important to do your best to stay healthy during this time by keeping up with your regular routine, such as eating a healthy diet, staying as active as you can, and avoiding any known asthma triggers.

If you’re a smoker, quitting the habit will help with your asthma and overall lung health as well as reducing the chances of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

Follow your personal asthma plan from your GP or asthma nurse, making sure you take all your inhalers and any other medications as prescribed. Make sure you have a sufficient supply of medications at home, and order any repeat prescriptions in good time. 

COVID-19 isn’t the only infectious disease that’s around at this time of year, so make sure you get your free flu jab from your GP or local pharmacy if you haven’t already.

What to do if you have asthma and get COVID-19

If you become ill with COVID-19, follow our tips for how to look after yourself, stay hydrated and monitor your temperature, pulse and blood oxygen levels at home.

If your asthma starts to get worse, use your salbutamol inhaler or prescribed nebuliser to relieve symptoms. If this doesn’t help, seek medical help from your GP or NHS 111. 

Your doctor may prescribe oral steroids if your chest remains wheezy or tight. They may give you antibiotics if there are signs of infection such as coughing up more mucus or a change in its colour/thickness.Dial 999 if you or someone you live with has any of the following problems. Make sure you tell the medical team that you have or may have COVID-19:

  • Worsening shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Inability to finish a 5-word sentence in one breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest that makes it hard for you to breathe, move, speak or perform basic activities such as walking up the stairs
  • Confusion or drowsiness that reduces your ability to concentrate or perform simple tasks
  • Lips or face turning blue

Find more advice on what to do if you have asthma and catch COVID-19 from Asthma UK.

Advice for people with severe asthma during COVID-19

People with severe asthma are defined as those who take the following types of treatments, or whose asthma is described as ‘uncontrolled’:

  • High dose inhaled corticosteroids
  • A second controller such as a long acting beta agonist (LABA), leukotriene receptor antagonist or theophylline
  • Oral steroids

If you get COVID-19 and have severe asthma, inform your specialist asthma care team as soon as possible. If you become unwell, follow their recommendations on increasing your medications and follow your ‘sick day rules’.

If you are taking biological therapies such as omalizumab (Xolair), you should continue to take them regularly as there is no evidence these will make the disease worse.

Try to relax

We know that this is a very stressful time, which can make your breathing feel worse or trigger an asthma attack.

It’s important to look after your mental as well as your physical health. Take time to relax, focus on the things you can control, and connect with others around you to talk about your feelings and worries. The charity Mind has more useful tips to help with your mental wellbeing.

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