What should people with asthma do now?

How to understand and reduce your risk from coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly developing situation and the most up-to-date information for people in the UK can be found on the NHS website.

As guidance changes across the country, it gives us more flexibility in how we go about our daily lives. Many people will be considering decisions like whether and where to go on holiday, or thinking about how to minimise the risks at work.

Everyone is different, and our risk level from COVID-19 is also different, as well as what level of risk we are prepared to accept in daily life. This page helps you understand how you can reduce your risk of catching or becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

You should always follow the government guidance for your area, to make sure you are taking sensible steps to reduce the risk of getting or spreading coronavirus.

Your risk from COVID-19 if you have asthma

Public Health England has identified the main factors that increase the risk of catching and becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. These are:

  • being older
  • your job
  • where you live
  • being a man
  • being obese (with a BMI over 30)
  • your ethnic background
  • being born outside of the UK or Ireland
  • having an underlying health condition (including asthma)
  • a weakened immune system.

However, this guidance could be reversed if the scientific advice or spread of coronavirus changes.

Many of these are connected and you may be at higher risk if you fall into more than one of these categories. Age is by far the biggest risk factor in relation to becoming seriously ill with coronavirus, with those aged 80 and older at a much greater risk. For advice and more information on risk in relation to coronavirus and older people, visit Age UK’s coronavirus guidance.

In terms of ethnic background, there are several factors to take into account. The highest rates of COVID-19 have been seen in people from Black ethnic groups, with the lowest diagnosis rates in people from White ethnic groups.

When comparing survival rates among people who have had COVID-19, people of Bangladeshi ethnicity have had around twice the risk of dying compared to people of White British ethnicity. This was after accounting for the effects of age, sex, deprivation and where people live.

People from the following ethnicities were also found to be at greater risk of dying from COVID-19, compared with people of White British ethnicity:

  • Asian, including people of Chinese, Indian and Pakistani origin
  • Black, including people of Caribbean and African origin

There isn’t any evidence to suggest that having asthma makes you more likely to catch coronavirus. There is some evidence that suggests asthma could make it more likely that you’ll get seriously unwell if you did catch coronavirus. But how big this risk is will also depend on things like how well controlled your asthma is.

What is clear is that everyone is different, and your own level of risk is affected by many different interacting factors, including those listed above. This is why it’s hard to give blanket information about the level of risk from having asthma. Your asthma plays a part in your level of risk from coronavirus, but your risk is also affected by lots of other things too.

Find out how many cases are in your area

If lots of people in your area are infected with coronavirus, it’s more likely that you will be exposed to the virus. If there are low levels of infection in your area, the risk will be lower. You can find out how many confirmed coronavirus cases there are in your area on the gov.uk website.

The other thing to consider is how fast the virus is spreading or reducing in your area. The main measure for this is the ‘R’ number.

If the R number is more than 1, it means the epidemic is growing. If the R number is less then 1, the epidemic is declining.

Find out the current R number in the UK, as well as separate ones for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

How to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19

You should do all you can to reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus. We all need to do our part to stop the spread of the virus and help protect ourselves and others.

There are lots of ways you can stay safe outside your home, including:

  • keeping your distance from anyone outside your household
  • washing your hands often, using soap and water or hand sanitiser
  • avoiding crowded places and not meeting up with large groups of people
  • wearing a face covering, if you can wear one (mainly to help you protect others).

You should make sure you follow the up-to-date government guidance on how you can stay safe outside your home.

Stop smoking

Coronavirus is a respiratory infection. If you smoke, you have an increased risk of contracting a respiratory infection and of having worse symptoms. This means that if you catch coronavirus, your symptoms may be worse than those of a non-smoker.

Smokers also touch their mouth and face more, which increases the risk of transmitting the virus from hand to mouth.

It’s important that if you smoke, you stop as soon as possible. As well as lowering your risk from coronavirus, your breathing becomes easier within days of stopping smoking. Get advice on how to stop smoking.

Wear a face mask or face covering 

Most people with asthma, even if it’s severe, can manage to wear a face mask or covering for a short period of time, and shouldn't worry if they need to wear one. Wearing a mask does not reduce a person’s oxygen supply or cause a build-up of carbon dioxide.

There isn’t a blanket rule about face covering exemptions for everyone with asthma. But if you find it impossible to wear a face covering for health reasons, you don’t have to wear one. An example of this might be if a mask makes you too breathless.

We have more information and advice on wearing a face covering if you have asthma, including an exemption card if you can't wear one.

Hay fever and COVID-19

If you’re allergic to pollen, you might be getting hay fever symptoms and these could be confused with COVID-19. The main difference is that hay fever doesn’t usually come with a fever (high temperature).

We are urging everyone who suffers from hay fever to make sure they start their regular hay fever medicines, so they reduce the risk of hay fever triggering an asthma attack.

Reducing your risk of serious illness if you catch COVID-19

You should still be getting your usual asthma care at this time, but some elements might look a bit different.

Emergency care

If you are having an asthma attack, this is an emergency. You must follow the steps on your action plan and get your usual emergency care, including going to A&E or calling 999 if you need to.

Care from your GP

If you live with asthma, particularly severe asthma, it’s thought that you have a higher chance of getting a serious illness if you do catch coronavirus.

But this risk will change depending on things like how bad your asthma is and how well-controlled it is. In general, the more severe and less well-controlled your condition is, the bigger the risk is likely to be.

This means it’s really important to take all your preventer medications as prescribed to keep your asthma controlled. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse if you are getting asthma symptoms 3 or more times a week.

Follow these 4 asthma management steps to help you keep well:

1. Keep taking your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed.

This will help cut your risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.

2. Carry your reliever inhaler with your everywhere.

It is important to carry this with you everywhere, in case your asthma symptoms start flaring up.

3. Follow your asthma action plan.

This will help you recognise and manage your asthma symptoms when they start. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, or your plan is out of date, it’s important you get one. Find out how to get an asthma action plan

4. Start a peak flow diary, if you have a peak flow meter.

If you don’t have a peak flow meter, think about getting one from your GP or pharmacist, as it can be a good way of tracking your asthma and helping to tell the difference between asthma symptoms and COVID-19 coronavirus symptoms.

The risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus may be different if you have another lung condition, such as COPD or an interstitial lung disease. However, what is similar is the need to manage your condition well. If you don’t, the chances of you becoming seriously unwell if you catch coronavirus will increase.

Read more about coronavirus and lung conditions.

Making decisions about what to do

We know that right now you may be making some difficult decisions and there is no single answer that will be right for everyone.

You may be thinking about whether to:

  • visit family or friends
  • go on holiday
  • go out for dinner
  • use public transport
  • go back into your workplace.

Part of deciding whether or not to do something is down to your attitude to risk. It might be helpful to think about how much you’d benefit from going somewhere and how much you could potentially be exposed to coronavirus.

You might find it useful to talk to friends, family or a health care professional about your individual situation, taking into account your asthma.  

The Scottish government has produced a quick guide to help you understand what sorts of activities are safer than others, which you may find useful. Generally, outdoor activities – such as seeing friends outside, or sitting outside at a café or restaurant – should be lower risk than indoor activities.

Should I go on holiday?

Government guidance is easing across the UK and it’s now possible to visit certain hotels, campsites and B&Bs. However, it’s important to be mindful of your condition and that restrictions on what can open are different across the 4 UK nations.

For the latest advice on travelling abroad, visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

If you have asthma, you should choose and plan your trip carefully, to make sure you stay well and enjoy your time away.  

Read about how to choose a holiday if you have asthma.  

It’s ok to say no

As lockdown rules ease, it can be difficult to know what’s safe to do, especially if you have asthma. You may not feel comfortable going to certain events or social occasions. It’s reasonable to say no or to ask what the arrangements are, to make you feel more comfortable.

You could ask:

How many people will be there?
Will there be many people I don’t usually meet?
How big is the space?
What are the bathroom arrangements?

If you don’t feel comfortable going somewhere, then don’t feel pressured. If you do decide to go, make sure you follow government guidance to reduce your risk from coronavirus.

How can I protect myself if I can’t work from home?

Think of how you’re getting to and from work

Walking or cycling are the safest ways to travel. If you do have to use public transport, try to avoid peak times. You could speak to your employer about changing your working hours or shift pattern so that you can travel at quieter times of the day.

It’s also worth remembering that lots of train stations and other transport hubs provide hand sanitiser, although try to carry some on you, if you can.  

If you’re thinking about driving to work, it’s worth thinking about the risks - for example, the roads will be busier. There’s also good evidence that when sitting in congested traffic, you are exposed to more pollution inside your car than you would be outside.

Reduce the number of people you spend time with regularly

Your employer can support with this by:

  • changing shift patterns and rotas so that you’re with the same people each time
  • working in smaller teams.

Follow the advice at your workplace

Each workplace will have its own rules, so make sure to follow these. You should only be going back to work if your workplace is COVID-secure. Read about what a COVID-secure workplace looks like.

If you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak has been difficult for everyone – your life may have been affected a little, or it may have been affected a lot. Over the last few months, you may have felt worried, lonely, stressed, anxious or bored.

Here are some suggestions that might help your health and wellbeing:

Try to keep active

Do whatever physical activity you can manage. This might be a walk or run around your local area, or some yoga or an exercise video at home. Even if you aren’t able to do much exercise, try to break up the time you spend sitting down by walking around at home.

Watch what you eat and drink

Eat healthy meals, drink enough water, and try not to increase how much alcohol you drink.

Stay social

It’s really important to keep in touch with friends and family. You can send texts or emails, call people on the phone or use video chat to stay in touch with people who are important to you.

NHS support

Even if you're not in the shielding group, if you meet certain criteria you can access support from the NHS volunteer responders. They can do things like helping you with shopping, getting prescriptions or just checking in to see how you are doing. 

You can request this support online or by calling 0808 196 3646 if:

  • you're 70 or older with an underlying health condition
  • you have moderate to severe asthma
  • you're pregnant
  • you're registered disabled
  • you have certain other medical conditions
  • you're newly socially vulnerable as a result of coronavirus.

You can find the full list of criteria on the NHS volunteer responders website

Looking after your mental health

It’s important to look after your mental health right now, whether you’ve had coronavirus or not. Here are a few organisations that can help you do that:

Every Mind Matters

Clear Your Head (Scotland)



Mental Health Foundation

 Last updated on: Thursday 30 July

We hope you have found this content useful


Our team of health experts is working tirelessly on a daily basis to provide the latest and most up to date health advice concerning Coronavirus (COVID-19) for people with asthma.

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