If you get coronavirus (COVID-19) and have asthma

What to do if you have asthma and get coronavirus symptoms or a positive test result

Health advice > Asthma triggers > Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find out about next steps if you have coronavirus symptoms or a positive test result, what your risk is, and why you should continue with your usual asthma medicines.

On this page:

Do I have coronavirus symptoms?

The NHS list the main symptoms of coronavirus as:

  • a high temperature or shivering (chills) 
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • loss of smell or taste, or changes to your normal sense of smell or taste.
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • an aching body
  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea
  • feeling or being sick

If you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus you should stay at home for at least five full days and avoid contact with others until you feel well and no longer have a high temperature.

Is it coronavirus or an asthma attack? 

COVID-19 can cause symptoms, like breathlessness and coughing, similar to asthma. But a high temperature, tiredness, and changes in taste or smell do not usually happen with an asthma attack. These symptoms are more likely to be due to coronavirus infection.

Read more about COVID-19 symptoms in adults and children on the NHS website.

 

Your reliever inhaler cannot help coronavirus symptoms

The reliever inhaler you use for your asthma symptoms may not help with similar symptoms, like breathlessness and coughing, caused by coronavirus.

If you’re not sure if it’s your asthma getting worse or your coronavirus symptoms, use your reliever and spacer anyway and call your GP or 111 for advice.

I’ve got COVID-19 – what now?

If you've tested positive for COVID-19 or have coronavirus symptoms you may be wondering how it’s going to affect your asthma and what you should do now.

Here we list five key things you need to do:

1. Stay at home and avoid contact with other people

If you have COVID-19, you need to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five days and until you feel well. This helps stop the spread of coronavirus and protects others, particularly those at high risk from serious illness. 

Find out more about what to do if you have respiratory symptoms, including COVID-19.

Stay at home if you test positive for COVID-19 or have coronavirus symptoms

Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 (or anyone with coronavirus symptoms) is advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days.

This helps stop the spread and protects others, particularly those at high risk from serious illness.

2. Manage your coronavirus symptoms 

Most people who get coronavirus can manage their symptoms at home by getting lots of rest, drinking lots of fluids, and taking paracetamol.  

The NHS has advice on how to manage cough, fever, and breathlessness and when to call for help.

If you live alone, ask someone to check up on you every day to see how you are. But it's safer if they don't come into your home.

Get advice from your GP or call 111 if: 

COVID-19 is making you feel more unwell or more breathless, or if your symptoms have gone on longer than four weeks.

3. Keep taking your usual asthma medicines 

“Carry on taking all your asthma inhalers and medicines as you normally would,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma + Lung UK's in-house GP. “They will help protect you from asthma symptoms flaring up and are perfectly safe if you have COVID-19.”

  • Wash your hands before using your inhalers or taking medicines.
  • Wash equipment like spacers, peak flow meters, mouthpieces, or masks more regularly. Find out how to clean your inhalers and spacers.
  • Do not share your inhalers and devices with anyone else.

Treatments for severe asthma 

If you’re being treated with biologics for severe asthma, it’s safe to continue with these too, unless advised by your specialist to postpone treatment while you are ill.

Ask your specialist about options to help you access treatments outside of hospital, such as pre-filled syringes to use at home.

If you use a nebuliser at home, you can continue to use this safely. It will not increase the spread of the virus.

4. Follow your asthma action plan 

Your asthma action plan is an important part of managing your asthma well every day.

When you’re out of your usual routine for any reason, including when you’re unwell, your action plan helps you keep track of the usual asthma medicines you need to take every day, and the actions you need to take if your asthma symptoms get worse, or you have an asthma attack.

Always make sure you’re using your most up-to-date plan. Talk to your GP or asthma nurse if you’re not sure. 

If you have a peak flow meter, monitoring your peak flow alongside any symptoms, can be a helpful way to keep an eye on your asthma too.

5. Act quickly if your asthma symptoms get worse

If your asthma symptoms get worse:

Call 999 if:

your reliever isn't helping or you're struggling to breathe. Let them know you have coronavirus and are having an asthma attack.

Coronavirus and asthma – what’s the risk? 

Studies suggest that the majority of people with asthma may be at slightly higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus than the general population.

But the current guidance is based on evidence that shows the risk for people with asthma is significantly less than other conditions, which means that most people with asthma are not at higher risk from coronavirus.

If you’ve had both your COVID-19 vaccines, your risk of serious illness from coronavirus, and being hospitalised, is likely to be low.

Booster jabs top up your protection and lower your risk from new variants, so it’s important to get your booster jabs too.  

Will coronavirus make your asthma worse? 

You could feel worse with coronavirus because you already have trouble breathing.

However, studies do not suggest an increased risk of an asthma attack when you have COVID-19. A lot depends on the type of asthma you have, and how well controlled it is.

You may be more at risk if:

  • you don’t take your preventer medicines every day as prescribed
  • your asthma is uncontrolled
  • you have other conditions alongside your asthma, such as heart disease or diabetes
  • you smoke
  • you’re very overweight (obese)
  • you’re older
  • you have non-allergic asthma. 

What coronavirus treatments are there?

There are treatments available to treat coronavirus. These are available to people aged 12 and over who have had a positive PCR test for COVID-19 and are most at risk of serious illness from the virus.

The NHS will confirm whether or not you’re eligible to be assessed for these treatments.

If you are eligible you should be sent a free PCR test to keep at home. This is so you can use it as soon as possible after developing typical COVID symptoms. If the result is positive, the NHS will then contact you about accessing treatments. If you don't hear within 24 hours, call your GP or specialist, or 111.

Treatments are best started as soon as possible after a positive PCR test, even if your symptoms are mild.

If you have tested positive using a lateral flow test, you still need to confirm the result with a PCR test in order to be assessed for treatments.

 

Your GP does not prescribe COVID-19 treatments

You’ll be assessed by your local CMDU (COVID-19 Medicines Delivery Unit), not your GP or specialist. The CMDU will prescribe treatment.

 

The treatments currently available are:

  • A monoclonal antibody treatment - sotrovimab (Xevudy)
  • Antivirals - molnupiravir (Lagevrio), nirmatrelvir and ritonavir (Paxlovid) and remdesivir (Veklury).

Find out more about NHS treatments for coronavirus.

Accessing antiviral treatments when you’re not high risk

If you are not eligible for treatments because you don’t fall into the high-risk group, you may also be able to access treatment with the antiviral molnupiravir through the Panoramic Study.

This is a UK-wide clinical study open to volunteers who:

  • have had a positive PCR or lateral flow test
  • feel unwell with symptoms that started in the last five days
  • are aged 50 or over, or 18-49 with an underlying health condition.

Find out more and sign up for the PANORAMIC trial.

Recovering from coronavirus 

It can sometimes take people a while to recover from coronavirus infections, even if they have been mild. If you have extreme tiredness, breathlessness, or a cough that just doesn’t seem to be settling as you would usually expect, you may have Long COVID.

Talk to your nurse, GP, or hospital specialist if you think you may have long COVID or if your coronavirus symptoms aren’t going away. Your healthcare professional can assess what care you need, which may depend on whether you were treated in hospital or at home.

You can find out more about Long COVID. We also have a free assessment tool to help and support people living with Long COVID symptoms. 

Long COVID and your asthma 

When you’re recovering from coronavirus, it is important that you’re able to recognise the difference between ongoing coronavirus symptoms and any asthma symptoms flaring up.  

Your asthma is more likely to:

It is important that you carry on treating any asthma symptoms as usual. Stick to all your usual prescribed asthma medicines.

If your asthma symptoms are getting worse, follow your written asthma action plan and call your GP or 111 for advice. Call 999 if you are struggling to breathe and your reliever inhaler isn’t helping.

The NHS Your Covid Recovery website also has information on managing the effects of COVID-19 if you already have asthma. 

You can get advice and support about asthma and coronavirus by calling a respiratory nurse specialist on our Helpline, 0300 222 5800 (9am-5pm; Monday-Friday). Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728. 

Last updated on: 22 June 2022

 

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