In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many doctors expressed concern the respiratory virus could cause serious harm to people with asthma. It was also believed COVID-19 would put many asthma patients at high risk for severe complications.
Studies last year later showed that people with asthma who get COVID-19 are not at increased risk of severe illness or complications as compared to other people.
But something else happened to people with asthma during the pandemic last year. Hospitals and emergency departments reported a sharp decline in the numbers of people they saw with asthma attacks.
Similar findings were found in a study published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology: In Practice. The data are from the ongoing PREPARE (Person Empowered Asthma Relief) research study led by pulmonologist Elliott Israel, MD of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Allergy & Asthma Network works with Dr. Israel as a partner in the PREPARE study. Asthma patients were surveyed remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses were compared to responses from before the pandemic. Dr. Israel’s study findings revealed total asthma attacks dropped by 40% during the pandemic.
Other COVID-19 and asthma studies in the United States and abroad reported similar findings.
Why is the decline happening? Medical experts say there is no clear-cut answer. It was believed asthma patients avoided emergency departments in general due to the pandemic. But that theory has been largely ruled out.
Other reasons may include:
- Reduced exposure to cold and flu viruses (via masks, social distancing and closures)
- People improving their use of asthma medications as prescribed.
- Reduced exposure to irritants at work and school.
- Lower levels of air pollution due to lockdowns
Since many adults telecommuted to work and children attended online school last year, people with asthma also may have spent more time indoors. They were more likely to avoid outdoor allergens such as pollen and irritants such as air pollution that are common asthma triggers.
Medical researchers are studying this trend and analyzing why it’s happening. Their research could lead to new prevention strategies and treatment plans.
What steps should people with asthma take to keep asthma controlled?
As people return to the workplace and schools reopen for in-person learning, there’s a chance asthma flares will increase again. What can you do to avoid asthma attacks as the pandemic continues?
The first thing you can do is get the COVID-19 vaccination. This will help ensure you don’t get COVID-19 and harm your respiratory system.
Here are other ways to keep your lungs healthy and well prepared to fend off any virus, infection, allergen or irritant.
- Continue taking your daily asthma controller medications as prescribed.
- Check to see if your asthma medication prescriptions are up to date and not expired.
- Follow your Asthma Action Plan.
- Avoid your asthma triggers to keep your lungs healthy and clear.
- Consider wearing a face mask when indoors or in crowds, especially during cold and flu season. This will not only help you avoid COVID-19 but also reduce your exposure to viruses that might trigger asthma.
- Maintain social distancing when possible.
- Wash your hands regularly using soap and water.
- Keep your regular doctor appointments – ask if telehealth is an option.
Research published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice found that individuals with asthma who needed clinical care for their asthma within 12 months prior to a COVID-19 diagnosis had an increased risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.
The study reinforces how important it is for anyone with asthma to work with their doctor to ensure their asthma is well controlled, especially during the pandemic.