Articles

COVID-19 and your asthma patients

16 Mar 2020

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19 or SARS CoV-2) is a changing situation and we are following developments closely. 

There is not enough empirical data to say with certainty how COVID-19 affects people with asthma, but we can deduce from previous experience that people with asthma are likely to be at more risk if they contract the disease.

It's crucial for patients with asthma to maintain good asthma control and follow the advice from health authorities, including social distancing, so they are ready as the virus spreads. 

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 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. 
  • Avoid lung function testing (spirometry or peak expiratory flow measurement) during the COVID-19 containment phase. If spirometry is essential and urgent, consider referring the patient to a lung function laboratory. If referral is not possible, perform spirometry only if it is needed to guide management and if comprehensive infection control can be maintained. See the Australian Asthma Handbook for more on spirometry and infection control measures.
  • 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. New limits apply to the sale of certain medications, including salbutamol inhalers, due to increased demand. 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.
  • Get good rest and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Take extra care during the upcoming flu season because respiratory infections, including colds and flu, can trigger asthma flare-ups. Speak with your doctor about having the flu vaccination. 
  • To protect against infection, follow social distancing advice. The government has announced limits on non-essential gatherings to two people and asks everyone to stay home unless it is necessary to go out. 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.
  • Some people may need to self-isolate, including all travellers arriving in Australia, people who have COVID-19 and their close contacts. 
  • People aged 60 and older with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease may be severely affected by COVID-19. Children rarely have severe symptoms when infected and may even be a bit less likely to get the disease in the first place, 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, keep taking your regular asthma preventer. Only take oral (systemic) steroids if your doctor has advised you to do so. These medications act on your whole body, not just your lungs, and may slow down your recovery from the virus. Speak with your doctor before stopping any medication.
  • If you need to go to hospital, take your medication and spacer with you.

Useful resources:

20 Mar 2020

Preparing your asthma patients as COVID-19 spreads

23 Feb 2020

National Asthma Council Australia welcomes new directors