Coronavirus and Asthma
What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of RNA viruses that cause diseases like the common cold, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The current pandemic is caused by a new coronavirus that has now been named SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is infection with SARS-CoV-2 that leads to coronavirus disease 2019 – commonly called COVID-19.
Does my Asthma make it more likely I’ll catch this Coronavirus?
Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects over 300 million people globally. It can make your airways sensitive, inflamed and narrower, producing excess mucus. However, although asthma can make it difficult for a person to breathe in and out, there’s no evidence that people with asthma are more likely than those without the condition to catch COVID-19.
How does COVID-19 affect people with Asthma?
Anyone can become seriously ill with COVID-19, though some people are more at risk than others. If you have asthma your risk may be higher if it is moderate to severe asthma or asthma that is not well controlled.
There are many other interacting risk factors, so it’s important that you consider if any might be relevant to you. For example your chance of becoming seriously ill increases particularly if you have co-existing health problems (including other respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer). Further risk factors include being over 60 years old, from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, very obese, or are pregnant.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 may appear two to 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. The most common and characteristic signs are:
- High temperature
- New persistent cough
- Loss of taste and/or smell.
Other symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Chest pain
- Conjunctivitis (red eye or eyes)
- Less common symptoms include rash, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.
Some people have just one or two of these symptoms. Many have none at all.
Can I reduce my risk of COVID-19?
You can keep your risk level to a minimum by doing your best to avoid being exposed to the virus, and by keeping your asthma under control.
Minimise exposure to the virus
- Follow everyday advice to wash your hands, avoid close contact, and stay at least six feet (about two metres or two arm lengths) from other people
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel
- During a local outbreak in your community, stay at home as much as you can
- Wear a mask or face covering in public and when around people you don’t live with. Most people with asthma, even if it’s severe, can manage to wear a facemask or covering for short periods without becoming too breathless. Masks don’t reduce how much oxygen you breathe in or cause a build-up of carbon dioxide
- If a household member is sick, try to isolate them from other members
- Avoid crowds
- Work from home if you can
- Do not share inhalers or spacers with others, including family members.
Plan ahead and be prepared
- Have a flu vaccine
- Ensure you have at least a 30-day supply of all your asthma medications and other prescription and non-prescription supplies, in case you’ll need to stay at home for a long time
- Keep an up-to-date list of urgent care contacts and services nearby – put the numbers in your phone and keep a handwritten list nearby, too.
Keep your Asthma under good control
- Follow your Asthma Action Plan
- Check your Asthma Action Plan is up to date
- Continue taking your current medications – preventer and reliever – as prescribed by your doctor. That includes any that contain steroids (inhaled or oral)
- Start a peak flow diary. Monitoring your peak flow regularly using a peak flow meter at home is a good way to track your asthma. It can help you to tell the difference between asthma symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms
- Don’t stop or change your medications without talking to your doctor first
- Avoid your asthma triggers
- Many of us are naturally worried or stressed at this time so find things that help you cope with stress and anxiety. Strong emotions can trigger an asthma attack.
Remember, any disinfectant can trigger an Asthma attack
- Ask an adult without asthma to clean and disinfect objects and around the house for you
- Go to another room while the cleaning is being done, and for a short while after
- Use soap and water instead of a disinfectant where you can, e.g. low-touch areas
- The person cleaning should follow product instructions safely and correctly, wear skin protection and ventilate the room well.
Smokers catch more respiratory infections than non-smokers. So, if you smoke you’re more likely to catch coronavirus and have worse symptoms. For these reasons if you smoke it’s important that you quit as soon as possible. As well as lowering your risk from coronavirus, you’ll also benefit from easier breathing within days of stopping. Learn about the relationship between COPD and smoking.
When to seek help?
If you are getting asthma symptoms three or more times a week, talk to your doctor.
A few COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the signs of an asthma attack – in particular cough and breathlessness or chest tightness. Your Asthma Action Plan will help you to recognise and manage your asthma symptoms.
An asthma attack is an emergency. You must not delay. Follow the steps on your Asthma Action Plan to obtain your usual emergency medical care, including going to the hospital emergency department if you need to.
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NHS: 25 Nov 2020. Who’s at higher risk from coronavirus? https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/people-at-higher-risk/whos-at-higher-risk-from-coronavirus/ [Accessed 26 Nov 2020]
Asthma UK: 9 Nov 2020. What should people with Asthma do now? https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/coronavirus-covid-19/what-should-people-with-asthma-do-now/ [Accessed 26 Nov 2020]
AAAAI: 24 Nov 2020. COVID-19 AND ASTHMA: WHAT PATIENTS NEED TO KNOW. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/covid-asthma [Accessed 26 Nov 2020]
Mayo Clinic Staff: 24 Nov 2020. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/symptoms-causes/syc-20479963 [Accessed 27 Nov 2020]
GINA: April 2020. Global strategy for asthma management and prevention (2020 update). Page 17: Interim guidance on asthma management during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://ginasthma.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/GINA-2020-report_20_06_04-1-wms.pdf [Accessed 27 Nov 2020]
WHO: May 2020. Asthma. Key facts. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/asthma#:~:text=It%20was%20estimated%20that%20more,and%20lower%2Dmiddle%20income%20countries [Accessed 26 Nov 2020]
Public Health England: May 2020. COVID-19: advice for smokers and vapers. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-advice-for-smokers-and-vapers/covid-19-advice-for-smokers-and-vapers [Accessed 27 Nov 2020]