COVID-19 and your asthma patients

17 Mar 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is a changing situation and we are following developments closely.

There is not enough evidence yet to know how COVID-19 affects people with asthma, but those with respiratory conditions should take extra care. 

It's important for patients with asthma to maintain good asthma control and follow the advice from health authorities.

Information for health professionals:

Visit the Australian Asthma Handbook for information on managing asthma during the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic. Please check the Handbook regularly for updates as the advice may change as more evidence emerges. 

Key recommendations include: 

  • Make sure patients have an up-to date written asthma action plan and have access to all medications specified in their plan. 
  • See the Australian Asthma Handbook for details on performing spirometry, including infection control measures. The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand has recommended that:
    • lung function testing and bronchial provocation testing can now be performed in Victoria and New South Wales in patients who are afebrile, and who have no symptoms of a viral illness.
    • in all regions, spirometry should not be performed in patients who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, are febrile, have symptoms of a viral illness, or who have an escalating respiratory condition.
    • see Spirometry Infection Control Recommendations for Primary Care for details.
  • Advise patients with asthma to continue taking their inhaled corticosteroids, as stopping their preventer increases the risk of severe asthma flare-ups. Use systemic corticosteroids only when indicated.
  • Do not use nebulisers to administer inhaled medicines, unless unavoidable. To deliver salbutamol for flare-ups or acute asthma in adults and children, use a pressurised metered-dose inhaler (puffer) and spacer (with a tightly fitting face mask, if required). The use of nebulisers carries a high risk of transmitting viral infections because they generate aerosols that can spread infectious droplets for several metres.
  • Advise patients to have their own inhaler and spacer and not share inhalers or spacers with anyone else, including family members. 

Refer to the Australian Asthma Handbook for full details. 

Information for your asthma patients:

  • Take your preventer medication as prescribed, make sure your asthma action plan is up to date (ask your doctor if you don't have one) and check whether you're using your inhaler and spacer properly. Our how-to videos are here to help.
  • Use your puffers with a spacer to get the most out of your medicines. Speak with your doctor about avoiding the use of nebulisers, as they can increase the risk of spreading respiratory infections to other people. 
  • Make sure you have enough medication for for a month, but don’t stockpile more than you need. Limits apply to the sale of certain medications, including salbutamol inhalers. If you do encounter shortages, call ahead to pharmacies to check which have stock, as this may vary from location to location. If you are unwell, call ahead to your pharmacy so they can arrange minimal contact delivery.
  • Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended or required in some parts of Australia, to help protect yourself and others. Find information for your area from your state health authority, including about people who may be exempt due to medical conditions. Speak with your doctor if you have concerns or to discuss what will work best for you. It's particularly important to consider a mask or face covering in situations where physical distancing is difficult. 
  • Get good rest and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Speak with your doctor about keeping your flu vaccination up to date. 
  • Follow the government's physical distancing advice for your area. 
  • Practise good hygiene, which includes washing hands often with soap and water, using a tissue and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Take advantage of Telehealth if required. 
  • People aged 60 and older with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease and more severe lung disease may be seriously affected by COVID-19. Children rarely have severe symptoms, but that doesn't mean infants, toddlers and teens are not carriers. Take precautions if grandparents are called to look after children in the event of school shut down.
  • If you become unwell with COVID-19, follow strict isolation requirements and all instructions regarding medical treatment. Keep taking your regular asthma medications according to your doctor's advice.
  • If you need to go to hospital, take your medication and spacer with you.

Access to severe asthma care:

Respiratory groups have launched a new resource to guide people with severe asthma on how to access vital treatments amid any disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

The National Asthma Council Australia joined forces with Asthma Australia to develop the resource in collaboration with NPS MedicineWise, with support from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand and industry leaders. 

Useful resources: