What should people with asthma do now?

Understand how you can reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 as restrictions ease across the UK

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

On this page

Asthma and your risk of becoming ill with COVID-19

At the start of the pandemic, the Government indicated that people with asthma who were entitled to get the flu jab were clinically vulnerable. This is because flu is one of the top triggers for asthma attacks and the assumption was that, as COVID-19 was a respiratory condition, it would have a similar impact on people with asthma. However, since then, scientists and clinicians have been able to gather more evidence on who is developing complications from COVID-19 and we now know more about who with asthma is most at risk.

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

People at higher clinical risk are those who either:

  • have severe asthma
  • need regular or continuous oral steroids
  • have a history of asthma attacks that have required an overnight stay in hospital.

As a result, many of these people will be in the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) group.

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. This includes taking your preventer medicines as prescribed and following your asthma action plan. This is particularly important if you have severe asthma and are clinically extremely vulnerable.

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.

Public Health England may update this guidance if the scientific advice or spread of coronavirus changes. 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 others to do the same
  • taking a test if you develop symptoms
  • getting tested regularly if you don’t have symptoms
  • 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

We strongly encourage that everyone who can wear a face covering should continue to do so 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.

Find the guidance for your area

Restrictions and advice on what you can and can’t do are different across the four UK nations:

Coronavirus restrictions in England

Coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland

Coronavirus restrictions in Scotland

Coronavirus restrictions in Wales

Coronavirus vaccine and the booster

Coronavirus vaccine

All UK adults should now have been offered the coronavirus vaccine. Some children aged 12 to 15 are now being advised to have the vaccine too. All coronavirus vaccines are very effective at reducing your risk of becoming ill with the virus should you get COVID-19. It’s also now known that being vaccinated reduces your risk of becoming infected with the virus. But it doesn’t mean you cannot get the virus.

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

Booster vaccine

The JCVI has provisionally advised that booster vaccines should be offered from September 2021 to people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 ahead of the winter months. They have advised that the booster vaccine should be offered in two stages.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, you will be offered the booster COVID-19 and a flu vaccine from September, under stage 1.

Stage 2 includes everyone aged 50-69 and adults aged 16-49 who are offered a free flu vaccine each year. People in these groups will be offered a booster COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible and practical after stage 1. They will also be offered a flu vaccine, where appropriate.

The final advice from the JCVI will be released before September and will take into account the latest scientific evidence. It will then need to be made official. The final decision could change as further data is analysed.

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 are available to certain people across the UK. These tests can be taken at home and give you a result in 30 minutes. They should only be taken by 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 in England can now get free lateral flow tests for COVID-19. They can be ordered online - this service can only be used by people over 18 who can’t get tests from their work, school, college, or university. Each pack contains seven tests and one pack can be ordered per household each day. You can also pick up packs of free tests from some pharmacies and collection points.

If you live in Scotland, you can get free lateral flow tests if you have been asked to test regularly by your work, education, local authority, or NHS Public Health team. Read more about getting tested with no symptoms in Scotland on the Scottish government website.

In Wales, lateral flow testing is currently being offered to people who work in a range of settings, such as NHS staff, social care staff, and educators. People who can’t work from home can also get free lateral flow tests at home. If you are eligible for free home tests, you can pick up self-test kits at certain test sites. For more information and a list of where you can collect tests, take a look at the Welsh government website.

In Northern Ireland, asymptomatic testing for key workers is now available. You can read more about workforce testing on the Health NI website.

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

In Scotland, 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.

In England, the government is no longer advising people to work from home. And social distancing measures in the workplace are not a legal requirement. The government has released guidance on working safely during coronavirus to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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 the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

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

Restrictions are easing across the UK. This means it’s now possible to meet up with family and friends – guidance on the amount of people you can meet and where will depend on where you live.

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 be able to make 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 clinically extremely vulnerable 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 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, you may have a higher chance of becoming seriously ill if you do catch coronavirus.

This risk changes depending on how well-controlled your asthma 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 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. There’s more information and about support for the clinically extremely vulnerable on our shielding page.

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 Bureau (CAB).

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)
Rethink
Mind
Mental Health Foundation
Samaritans

 

Last updated on: Monday 19 July

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