Asthma and Coronavirus (COVID-19) Q&A

Below are some common questions regarding asthma and COVID-19, with answers from Canadian Medical Professionals.

 

Access this document in French: L’asthme et la maladie à coronavirus (COVID-19) Q&R

Read our updated COVID-19: Health Recommendations for Canadians with Asthma (June 12, 2020)

Le COVID-19 et l’asthme – Recommandations de santé pour les personnes qui ont de l’asthme (20 mai 2020)

I have asthma. Should I just stay home? I’ve read that places outside of Canada are recommending this.

If you have asthma, it is very important that you follow the guidelines outlined by your municipal, provincial or territorial and federal health authorities regarding physical/social distancing, hygiene best practices like hand washing, and staying home if you feel sick.

If you have asthma, you do not need to stay inside indefinitely. You can go for walks while still maintaining a physical distance of two metres from others, known as social distancing. One of the most important things that you can do to prevent the spread of the virus is to limit your contact with other people – whenever possible, do your shopping online and avoid crowds and crowded places.

If you need essentials like groceries, arrange to have a friend or family member pick them up and deliver them without physical contact. You can also have medications delivered from the pharmacy. If you do need to go out, make sure to plan ahead to limit these trips so you are spending as little time in shared public spaces as possible. Always maintain distance between you and those around you, and wash your hands frequently. If your community is experiencing an outbreak, it is recommended that you stay home as much as possible.

By staying home, you decrease the risk of catching the virus through contact with others. If we all practice social distancing, we can “flatten the curve” of infections and stop the rapid rise of cases that could overwhelm our healthcare system.

I’m really worried that because I have asthma, I’m more likely to catch this virus. Is this true?

No. If you have asthma you are at risk for more severe effects from contracting the virus, but you are not more likely to get COVID-19 because you have asthma.

What’s the difference between social distancing and self-isolation? Should I be self-isolating if I have asthma?

Social distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak. This means making changes in your everyday routines to minimize close contact with others, including:

  • avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings
  • avoiding handshakes
  • limiting contact with people at higher risk like older adults and those in poor health
  • keeping a distance of at least 2 arms-length (approximately 2 metres) from others

Social distancing is recommended for each and every Canadian. If you have asthma, you NEED to be social distancing.

The Canadian government’s guidelines for self-monitoring, self-isolation, and isolation depend on whether or not you have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have asthma, you do not need to self-isolate immediately unless directed by your Public Health Authority. 

You need to self-monitor if you:

  • have no symptoms and
  • may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days or
  • are in close contact with older adults or people who are medically vulnerable or
  • have been asked to do so by your Public Health Authority

Self-monitoring means to:

  • monitor yourself for 14 days for symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough, fever and difficulty breathing
  • avoid crowded places and increase your personal space from others whenever possible

If you develop symptoms, isolate yourself from others immediately and contact your public health authority as soon as possible.

Self-isolate if you:

  • have no symptoms and
  • may have been exposed to COVID-19 as a result of:
  • travelling outside of Canada within the last 14 days or
  • coming in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • have been asked to do so by your Public Health Authority

Self-isolation means to:

  • stay at home
  • monitor yourself for symptoms, even if mild, for 14 days
  • avoid all contact with others

 

This will help prevent the spread of disease in your home and community in the event you become symptomatic

If you develop symptoms, even if mild, stay home, avoid other people and contact your Public Health Authority as soon as possible.

Learn more about COVID-19 at Home: Advice for Caregivers.

If you have a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) you should self-isolate immediately and call your healthcare provider. If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, reduce your contact with others:

  • Isolate yourself at home for 14 days to avoid spreading it to others
  • If you live with others, stay in a separate room or keep a 2-metre distance
  • Call your local public health authority, tell them your symptoms and follow their instructions

Learn more about Coronavirus disease prevention here:

My child has asthma. How can I protect them?

If your child is sick, they need to stay home.

Make sure you have a 30-day supply of your child’s asthma medications on hand. Ensure your child is taking their prescribed medications – both controller and reliever – and following their Kids Asthma Action Plan. Check their inhaler technique to make sure they’re taking their medication properly.

Evolving research indicates that children seem to have mild symptoms or be carriers of COVID-19. For this reason, it is especially important to limit their contact with others and especially the most vulnerable population: older adults, and those with underlying health conditions.

You can make sure your child is safe by keeping them at home. Consider hosting virtual playdates.

Be a role model for good hygiene and encourage frequent hand washing.Teach children to avoid touching their mouth or face.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items like toys and electronics. Many young children like to put their fingers or objects in their mouth, so it is especially important to keep frequently touched surfaces clean and encourage hand washing.

Launder frequently touched items like plush toys, bedding, and towels.

Avoid sharing dishes, glasses and utensils.

It’s also important to take time to check in and ask how they’re doing. Many children feel confused or scared when their routines are interrupted. Talk to them about what is happening, and explain why it’s important to follow the rules set out by the Canadian government so that they can keep others safe.

Should I call my healthcare provider and ask about my symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms of an asthma attack:

  • Take your reliever medication as directed. Use your Asthma Action Plan for reference.
  • Call 911 if your symptoms persist or worsen. Do this if you feel worse at any point or if there is no improvement after using your medication.

If you are experiencing ‘new’ symptoms like fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, you should self-isolate immediately. Take the Government of Canada’s symptom-checker tool: https://ca.thrive.health/covid19/en and follow their recommended advice.

If your asthma is getting worse and you don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, make an urgent appointment to see your healthcare provider.  If you have an asthma attack, follow the steps on your Asthma Action plan and call 911 if you need to.

If you are experiencing asthma symptoms, continue to take your asthma medications and consult your Asthma Action Plan to determine if your symptoms are worsening and you need to speak to your healthcare provider.

If your asthma symptoms indicate your asthma is not controlled and you need to speak to your healthcare provider, call them before visiting their office.

If you have a Peak Flow Meter, use it daily and record your peak flow. Having a record of these measurements will help you determine if your asthma is controlled and responding properly to your medications. If you detect a decrease in your peak flow over time, speak with your healthcare provider.

Learn more about Peak Flow.

How will COVID-19 impact my asthma?

If you have a chronic respiratory illness or a condition that can compromise respiratory function, it is possible that you may experience more severe symptoms if you contract coronavirus (COVID-19).

As a number of the symptoms are respiratory, it is important that you monitor your symptoms carefully, look out for additional symptoms listed above, and contact your healthcare provider by phone if you have any concerns. 

You should always ensure that you are properly managing your asthma by taking your controller medications as prescribed, carrying your reliever medication with you at all times, following an Asthma Action Plan and ensuring that you and your loved ones know what to do in case of an asthma attack.

Sometimes my asthma leaves me short of breath. How do I know it’s not COVID-19?

Remember that asthma symptoms can flare up for a number of reasons, like seasonal allergies or an infection. You may be experiencing asthma symptoms due to an increased exposure to indoor triggers, simply because you are spending more time indoors.

Respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19 are very similar to asthma symptoms, like shortness of breath and cough. Evolving research indicates that the symptom which differentiates asthma from COVID-19 is experiencing a “new” fever. Fever has been most common of any symptom to date in confirmed cases of COVID-19.

If you experience a sudden fever in addition to respiratory symptoms, you should immediately self-isolate and contact your healthcare provider right away for further advice.

I’ve heard that some medications put you more at risk for complications from COVID-19. Should I stop taking my medications?

No, DO NOT stop taking your medications as prescribed by your healthcare professional.

Stopping or modifying your medications without consulting your healthcare provider due to concern about COVID-19 is dangerous.

Right now, it is very important that you keep your asthma well controlled, and sticking to the treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider is a crucial part of this process. This means ALL asthma medications, including biologics.

Should I take more medication, just to be safe?

No, modifying your medication regimen in any way puts you at risk for adverse health effects and is not recommended. Continue to take your medications as prescribed.

I’m worried I’ll run out of medication. Should I stock up?

Both the Canadian Pharmacists Association and Asthma Canada recommend that Canadians with asthma have a 30-day supply of medication on hand, should they become ill and are unable to visit a pharmacy or healthcare provider to obtain more medication.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association does not recommend more than a 30-day supply of medication (unless clinically justified) so that all Canadians can access the medication they need.

They state: “As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to evolve, pharmacists are becoming increasingly mindful about the need to carefully manage our drug supply to weather some of the long-term impacts of the disease across the globe. Canadians rely on their medications and pharmacists are working to make sure that every patient has access to their medications when they need it.”

Read their full statement here.

I wasn’t able to get my asthma medication from the pharmacy because I have used more than expected, or because it is in short supply due to COVID-19. What should I do?

Consult your healthcare provider days before you think you will run out of medications. Order your refills from the pharmacy at least one week in advance to be sure the medication is available.

If your medication is not available, your healthcare provider or pharmacist will assist you in developing a plan for replacing your medication. There are a number of different inhaled and oral medications that could be considered. Your pharmacist or healthcare provider should be able to advise you of the most appropriate alternative treatment plan in the event of a medication shortage.

If you normally order a prescription for more than 30 days supply, you may find your pharmacist only dispenses a 30-day supply so that medications do not run out due to people stockpiling.

Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about medication shortages. Do not rely on information found online.

Will my medication cost more during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Any changes made to 30-day refill prescriptions will increase the number of prescriptions and may affect the dispensing fees. Provincial and territorial governments have addressed setting limits to offset the cost. Speak to your pharmacist about cost and billing, or consult the Ministry of Health for your jurisdiction.

Are there any changes to how I should be managing my asthma at the moment?

No, the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) does not require any change to what is normal good asthma control practices. People with asthma should be on a daily controller medication, so that they do not need to over rely on reliever medications. All people living with asthma should have and follow a written Asthma Action Plan and know how to use their medications accordingly.

You can use these resources to find out if your asthma is controlled:

Should I be disinfecting my inhaler or nebulizer?

You should avoid using your nebulizer as much as possible. This therapy is considered high-risk for the spread of COVID-19.

If you are using a nebulizer, contact your healthcare provider to discuss your treatment plan. An inhaler and a spacer should be used in place of a nebulizer when possible and if prescribed medications allow. Studies have shown that using an inhaler and spacer is just as effective as using a nebulizer.

There is no need to disinfect your nebulizer or inhaler as you are the only person who should be using it.

I have a specific question about my asthma. Is there someone I can talk to?

If you have questions about your asthma, you can contact Asthma Canada’s Asthma & Allergy HelpLine free call-back service. Email info@asthma.ca or call 1-866-787-4050 to be connected with a Certified Respiratory Educator. *Please note we are experiencing longer than normal wait times, but will be sure to get back to you as soon as possible.

Get your information from reliable sources:

As the situation continues to develop around the globe, you can find the most up-to-date information for people in Canada on the Government of Canada’s website. Be sure to also check provincial and local authorities for information specific to your location.

At this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has noted there is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:

• aged 65 and over

• with compromised immune systems

• with underlying medical conditions

Asthma & Coronavirus (COVID-19):

You might be wondering what COVID-19 means for you, or your loved ones with asthma. When people with asthma get respiratory infections, it can trigger their asthma symptoms. Most people recover from COVID-19 after a period of rest, that may extend up to 14 days. In some, it can be more severe and, in rare cases, life-threatening. The symptoms are similar to other much more common illnesses such as a cold or flu, and include:

•cough;

•high temperature or fever,

•shortness of breath.

People of all ages can be infected by the virus, which causes respiratory disease. People with underlying chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease appear to be more at risk of severe effects.

Asthma Canada recommends that Canadians with asthma ensure they renew or refill their asthma prescriptions with a 30-day supply so that they don’t run out of medication, should they become ill.

Asthma Canada recommends that Canadians with asthma continue to take their prescribed asthma medications unless their healthcare provider has advised otherwise. Stopping medication use may cause adverse health effects and is not recommended unless directed by your healthcare professional. Do not stop or modify your asthma medications because of concern about COVID-19.

This includes biologics. Biologics used to treat asthma do not have the same immuno-suppressing effects like biologics to treat other types of illnesses.

Manage your asthma to reduce your risk:

• Keep taking your controller medication daily or as prescribed. This will help cut your risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including COVID-19.

• Carry your reliever inhaler with you every day, in case your asthma symptoms flare up.

• Monitor your asthma symptoms closely and follow your Asthma Action Plan to help you recognize and manage asthma symptoms, and know when to seek advice from your healthcare provider or emergency help.

• Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel.

• If you must travel, pack all asthma medications in your carry-on luggage so it is easily accessible. Pack extra asthma medication in case your travel plans change or are delayed. Be sure to check travel advice and advisories from the Government of Canada’s website.

• Take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and fluids, and eat good nutritious food.

• Reach out to Asthma Canada’s Asthma & Allergy HelpLine call-back service to connect with a Certified Respiratory Educator if you have questions about managing your asthma. Call 1-866-787-4050 or email info@asthma.ca

Steps everyone can take to lower the risk of getting & spreading COVID-19:

• Practice social distancing/self-monitoring/self-isolation/isolation as directed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

• Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds.

• Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, such as toys, phones and door handles.

• Stay home if you are sick. Encourage those you know who are sick to stay home until they no longer have symptoms.

• Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, ears or mouth.

• Make sure that you get high-quality information about COVID-19 from reliable sources. The Public Health Agency of Canada is a reliable source of information, as are provincial and territorial public health authorities.

Did you find this content useful?

The Asthma Canada team, including our Certified Respiratory Educators are working tirelessly to provide the most up to date education and support regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) to the asthma community.

Canadians with asthma are depending on us now more than ever. We are only able to do the work that we do thanks to the generosity of people like you. If you are able to, please consider a donation to support our mission during this time. Thank you!