NHS release new official guidance for asthma sufferers amid the coronavirus outbreak - what you need to know

People with weaker immune systems and long-term illnesses are most at risk of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)

As coronavirus continues to spread across the UK, with more than 51,600 cases now confirmed, there are growing concerns for those who are most vulnerable if they contract it.

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Public Health England (PHE) has warned that those with weaker immune systems and long-term illnesses are most at risk, but what does that mean for asthma sufferers?

What is the new official guidance for asthmatics?

The NHS has now released official guidance for people who are asthmatic amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides guidelines to the NHS, the guidance has been issued to maximise the safety of both adults and children who suffer with severe asthma.

‘Severe' asthma is defined as someone who “requires treatment with high-dose inhaled corticosteroids plus a second controller (and/or systemic corticosteroids) to prevent it from becoming "uncontrolled", or which remains "uncontrolled" despite this therapy”.

Those with severe asthma are advised to continue taking any treatment as prescirbed, and to attend any essential medical appointments alone to minimise the risk of infection.

NICE said: “The guideline recommends that patients should be advised to regularly clean equipment such as face masks and mouth pieces, and that they should not share their inhalers and devices with anyone else.”

Patients with severe asthma who have received a letter from the Government telling them they are at high risk of complications arising from coronavirus should be advised to ‘shield’.

GPs have also been urged to only carry out bronchoscopy and pulmonary function tests for urgent cases, as these have the potential to spread the virus, as well as not to prescribe asthma medicines for more than 30 days’ treatment to avoid causing shortages.

Are asthmatics more susceptible to coronavirus?

On Monday 16 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that people in ‘vulnerable groups’ should stay at home for 12 weeks.

The virus poses the biggest threat to those with weaker immune systems and long-term, or chronic, respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.

Asthma sufferers are thought to be at greater risk of being more severely affected by coronavirus, which causes an infection in the respiratory tract and can cause difficulties with breathing.

Who is included in the ‘at risk’ groups?

The government is currently advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus to follow strict social distancing measures where possible, in an effort to reduce the transmission of the virus.

This includes avoiding non-essential use of public transport, working from home where possible, avoiding large gatherings and those in smaller public spaces, such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants and theatres, and avoiding gatherings with family and friends.

The following groups of people are advised to follow these measures if they are:

aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)

under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):

chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis

chronic heart disease, such as heart failure

chronic kidney disease

chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis

chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple

sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy

diabetes

problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed

a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy

being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)

those who are pregnant

What advice should asthma sufferers follow?

The current advice for at risk groups is to be stringent in following social distancing measures, meaning those in this category should stop “non-essential contact with others”.

Asthma UK has advised that those with long-term lung conditions, including asthma, should start to reduce the amount of contact they have with others in an effort to suppress the spread and stay safe.

Those who have asthma and have no symptoms of coronavirus are advised to take the following precautions:

Wash your hands often with soap and warm water

Use tissues to wipe your nose or catch a sneeze, and then put them in the bin straight away

Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands aren’t clean

Avoid unnecessary interactions with other people, such as large gatherings, shaking hands with people or hugging them, and unnecessary travel, especially on public transport. You should also avoid going to public venues like bars, restaurants and cinemas. If possible in your job, try to work from home

You do not need to stay inside your house at all times or self-isolate, just try to cut down the number of people you meet with on a daily basis and keep your distance from people when you see them

Carry on taking all your usual asthma medicines as normal

If someone in your home develops symptoms of coronavirus, you will need to stay in your home for 14 days

If you have asthma and you are displaying symptoms of coronavirus (a new continuous cough or a fever), you should follow this advice:

Stay in your home for seven days if you live on your own, or 14 days if you live with others. Everyone in your household will need to stay in the house for 14 days

If you have mild symptoms, you can stay at home

If your symptoms don’t go away after seven days, or get worse, or you are having difficulty breathing, call 111 for advice, or 999 if you need emergency care. Tell them that you have asthma and if your asthma symptoms are getting worse

If you get an asthma cough and are not sure whether your cough is a symptom of coronavirus or related to your asthma, speak to your GP, use the online 111 service or call 111 to ensure that you get the right care

If you are having an asthma attack, call 999 for an ambulance as usual, and tell them you have coronavirus symptoms

Carry on taking all your usual asthma medicines as normal

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