What should people with asthma do now?

Understand how you can reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19

Find out how you can reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, what to do to manage your asthma well, and where to get support if you need it.

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Asthma and your risk of becoming ill with COVID-19

How your asthma affects your risk seems to be mainly linked to how well controlled it is. People with well-controlled asthma do not seem to be at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

Adults and children with poorly controlled asthma are considered at higher clinical risk from COVID-19.

As a result, some people with asthma were included in the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) group at the start of the pandemic.

However, if you have any type of asthma there is a small increase in the risk of needing to go to hospital if you get COVID-19. Although the risk of this happening is small, it’s still very important to manage your condition well.

It’s also important to remember that your own level of risk is affected by many different interacting factors. Your asthma may play a part in your level of risk from coronavirus, but your risk is also affected by lots of other things too.

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

  • being older
  • being obese (with a BMI over 30)
  • your ethnic background
  • a weakened immune system
  • having an underlying health condition (including asthma)
  • being a man
  • your job – your risk level is higher if you work outside your home and come in to contact with lots of people every day
  • where you live - if lots of people in your area are infected with coronavirus, it’s more likely you’ll catch it - find official coronavirus statistics for your area. 

Many of these factors are connected and you may be at higher risk if you meet more than one of the criteria.

Reducing your risk of catching and spreading COVID-19

There are lots of ways you can reduce the risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus, including:

  • following the government guidance for where you live or work
  • meeting outside where possible or keeping inside well ventilated
  • getting vaccinated and encouraging friends and family to do the same
  • getting a PCR test if you develop symptoms
  • self-testing regularly with a lateral flow test if you don’t have symptoms
  • self-isolating if you get positive test results
  • washing your hands often, using soap and warm water, or hand sanitiser
  • wearing a face covering (if you can) to help protect others.

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

In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland it is still a legal requirement to wear a face covering in certain settings.

Rules around face coverings have been relaxed in England. However, we strongly encourage that everyone who can continues to wear a face covering in enclosed or crowded spaces.

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.

Coronavirus vaccine and the booster

Coronavirus vaccine

All coronavirus vaccines are very effective at reducing your risk of becoming ill with the virus should you get COVID-19. It’s also known that being vaccinated reduces your risk of becoming infected with the virus. But it doesn’t mean you cannot get the virus.

All UK adults aged 18 and over can get the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is given in two doses 8-12 weeks apart.

Young people aged 16 and 17

All UK teenagers aged 16-17 can now get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The timing of the second dose for this age group has not yet been confirmed.

Some people aged 16-17 who are at increased risk from COVID-19 are currently eligible for two doses of the vaccine. The second dose should be at least eight weeks after the first dose. This includes 16–17-year-olds with poorly controlled asthma.

16 and 17-year-olds do not need a parent or guardian’s permission to get vaccinated. 

Children aged 12-15

All UK children aged 12 to 15 are being offered a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some children aged 12-15, who are at increased risk from COVID will be offered two doses of the vaccine. The second dose should be given at least eight weeks after the first dose. This includes children with poorly controlled asthma.

Parents or guardians will be asked to give consent for their child aged 12-15 to be vaccinated. If there is disagreement between parents and children, a child who is considered by a healthcare professional to be capable of making an informed choice about vaccination can have the vaccine without a parent’s consent.

Booster vaccine

Who can get the booster vaccine?

The government has announced a COVID-19 vaccine booster programme this autumn to give those at higher risk extra protection this winter.

The following people will be eligible for a single dose of the booster vaccine:

  • Older adults living in residential care homes
  • Everyone over the age of 50
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • People aged 16 to 49 with an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe COVID-19
  • Adult carers
  • People aged 16 and over who live someone who is immunosuppressed.

Some people with asthma will fall into the priority groups for the booster vaccine. For example, if you are over 50 or a frontline health and social care worker.

You will also be eligible if your asthma is poorly controlled.  

What does poorly controlled asthma mean?

The British Thoracic Society defines poorly controlled asthma in adults and children 12 and over as:

  • Two or more courses of steroid tablets in the last 24 months OR
  • Taking steroid tablets every day for asthma OR
  • One or more hospital admission for asthma in the last 24 months.

If you’re eligible, you will be invited for a booster jab at least six months after your second COVID-19 vaccine. Boosters will be given in order or priority ( groups 1 – 9).

Most people will have the Pfizer vaccine for the booster (regardless of which vaccine they had for your first and second doses). A half dose of the Moderna vaccine has also been approved for use. 

Third primary dose of the vaccine for immunosuppressed 

A very small group of people with asthma are being offered a third primary dose of the coronavirus vaccine. This is separate to the winter booster vaccine campaign. Your specialist will tell you if you need a third primary dose.

Find out more about the third dose for people with asthma who are immunosuppressed

Getting your flu jab 

If you have been invited to book your flu vaccine, don’t delay getting protected against flu. More people are expected to get flu this year, and if you get flu and Covid-19 at the same time you’re more at risk of being seriously ill.

You may be offered a flu jab at the same time as your COVID vaccine, although not all centres will be able to offer both.

If you are offered both jabs, the JCVI has advised that the COVID vaccine and flu vaccine can be safely given at the same time.

Watch the NHS film on winter vaccines. 

We know people have a lot more questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including how and where to get the vaccine, which is why we’ve worked with our sister charity, the British Lung Foundation, to create a COVID-19 vaccine FAQ.

Get tested regularly when you don’t have symptoms

Regular testing is important to understand and slow the spread of COVID-19. Self-testing can also help stop asymptomatic people (those without symptoms) from spreading the virus to other people without them knowing.

Lateral flow tests can be done at home and give you a result in 30 minutes. These tests are for people who don’t have COVID-19 symptoms.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, wherever you live in the UK, you should self-isolate and request a PCR test online.

All results from lateral flow tests must be reported, whether the result is positive, negative, or void. Full instructions on how to complete the test and how to report results are given in each pack. How often you should self-test may vary, depending on your circumstances (such as your workplace requirements) and current national or local guidelines.

Everyone can now get free lateral flow tests for COVID-19. Get a lateral flow test in your area

Biologic medicines for asthma and COVID-19 vaccines

Many people with severe asthma take medicines called biologics (known as mAbs, or monoclonal antibodies) alongside their usual asthma medicines. You can find out more about these medicines on our biologic therapies for severe asthma page.

If you take biologics yourself, you might be wondering how it affects getting your COVID-19 vaccine.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Pfizer/BionNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe for people who take biologics. If you’re taking biologics for your asthma, you shouldn’t change how you take them unless you’re advised to do so by your GP or specialist.

You’re advised not to receive your COVID vaccine and biologic on the same day and, if possible, leave seven days between getting the COVID vaccine and your asthma biologic. However, these decisions should be made by your specialist, so it’s important not to stop taking or change any of your medicines without speaking to them first.

Going to work

Employers should still be taking steps to protect the health and safety of their workers and they should be able to explain to you the measures they are taking to keep you safe. The government has released guidance on working safely during coronavirus to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In England, the government has recommended a gradual return to workplaces and it's no longer advised that everyone should work from home where possible.

In Scotland, a gradual return to offices is planned. However, employers should continue to support their employees to work from home where possible.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, you are advised to work from home if you can. If this isn’t possible, your employer should make sure your workplace is COVID-safe.

We understand that this may be worrying, especially if you have a public-facing role. If you’re concerned about your health and safety in the workplace, you should speak with your employer in the first instance. If you can’t find a resolution, try contacting your trade union, getting advice from ACAS, or contacting Citizens Advice.

If you do go into work, think about how you will get there. Walk, cycle, or drive if possible. If you do need to use public transport, try speaking to your employer about changing your working hours so you can travel at quieter times of the day.

You might also be able to try and reduce the number of people you spend time with. Your employer could support you in this by changing shift patterns so you’re with the same people each time, or by working in smaller teams.

Socialising with family and friends

Social distancing restrictions have eased across the UK. This means it’s now possible to meet up with family and friends.

We know that for some people being able to meet up with friends and family is a cause for celebration. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone will feel as comfortable and confident as society reopens. Depending on where you live in the UK, hospitality, shops, and transport providers will have their own rules regarding social distancing and face coverings. So, it’s important to check ahead to find out what’s expected.

Some people may want to continue social distancing even if it’s no longer a legal requirement. Others may prefer to meet outside or to know a person’s vaccination status before meeting up with them. It’s important to be respectful and understanding that some people may want to take a more cautious approach.

Here are some conversation starters to help you navigate these situations. You might say:

  • “Just to let you know, I plan to wear a face covering for our train journey and I’d be grateful if you would wear one as well. This is because wearing one helps to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other viruses – while cases are still quite high, I’d like to carry on doing my bit to protect other people.”
  • “I was wondering if you’ve had both doses of your coronavirus vaccine yet. You get the best protection when you have both doses, and recent studies have shown that they do help prevent transmission.”
  • “When I come over to yours, is it OK if we sit in the garden? Being outside helps prevent the spread of the virus.”

We also have advice for the higher-risk groups about how you can stay safer when meeting up with family and friends.

How can I look after my asthma during the pandemic?

One of the most important things you can do right now is to manage your asthma well. You should make sure that you’re seeking help when you need it and trying to book your usual appointments (even if your GP or asthma nurse might still be doing their appointments over the phone or by video).

Some routine appointments may have been postponed, such as annual reviews. But annual reviews are important to ensure your condition is managed as well as possible and lower your risk of an asthma attack. So do book an annual review as soon as you can.

Emergency care

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

Care from your GP

Speak to your GP or asthma nurse if you are getting asthma symptoms three or more times a week.

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

  1. Keep taking your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed. This helps cut your risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.
  2. Carry your reliever inhaler with you 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 helps 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 don’t have a peak flow meter, think about getting one from your GP or pharmacist. It’s a good way of tracking your asthma and helping to tell the difference between asthma symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms.

What support can I get?

Wherever you are in the UK, there is support available if you need to self-isolate. Find out more about support you can get if you are clinically extremely vulnerable.

In all four nations, you can get in touch with your local COVID Mutual Aid group. They’ll put you in touch with people who live locally who’ll be able to help you.

In England, if you meet certain criteria, you can get 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. Register for support online or by calling 0808 196 3646. There are equivalent services in the devolved administrations.

You might be entitled to welfare benefits. For more information on what you might be entitled to, take a look at our information or get in touch with the Citizens Advice.

Help if you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is difficult for everyone – your life may have been affected a little, or it may have been affected a lot. You may feel 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, some yoga in your living room, or doing an online class. Even if you can’t 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 drink too much alcohol.

Stay social

It’s important to keep in touch with friends and family. In stressful times, we cope better with support from those close to us. 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.

Get support if you need it

It’s important to look after your mental health right now, whether you’ve had coronavirus or not.

If you’re struggling to cope, talk to your GP. They’ll be able to offer you advice on things you can do to help, and in some cases offer treatment to help you feel better.

Here are a few organisations that can help you:

Every Mind Matters
Clear Your Head (Scotland)
Mental Health Foundation


Last updated on: Tuesday 12 October 2021

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