Asthma, Allergies and COVID-19: What are the implications?

The coronavirus pandemic originated in China in December 2019 and the first case was reported in South Africa on the 5th of March 2020.  To date there are hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 cases in over 180 countries.  South Africa is seeing a rapid rise in confirmed cases, including cases of community transmission.  What does this mean for those with asthma and allergies?  Let’s go over the facts:

COVID-19 is the name given to the viral respiratory syndrome caused by infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Most people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms, however, around 16% of people will have severe illness, which may be fatal.

Children usually have a mild infection and can been infected without displaying any symptoms at all.  This means children are much less at risk of becoming very sick but can be important in the spread of the virus to others.

The data from the Chinese experience showed that only children with a significant underlying medical condition had severe disease.

The elderly and those with chronic health conditions- particularly lung and heart disease- are the most at risk of severe illness.

What about asthmatics?

Well controlled asthmatics have not been shown to be more at risk of being infected by coronavirus or having severe COVID-19.  Interestingly, wheezing is not a prominent characteristic of COVID-19.

Any viral respiratory tract infection may cause an asthma attack or loss of asthma control.  Asthmatics should aim for excellent asthma control at this time.

Asthma attack can progress rapidly so remain aware of your asthma symptoms; an asthma diary may be helpful to monitor symptoms.

How do I distinguish COVID-19 and symptoms of allergies?

Allergic rhinitis causes nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, an itchy nose and itchy, watery eyes. Allergic asthma may cause a cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. Some people find that they feel very tired and may have headaches when their allergic conditions flare.  Fever is not a symptom of allergy.  Allergic disorders produce symptoms that are persistent, although they may wax and wane.

Fever is present in the vast majority of cases of COVID-19.  Other symptoms include a cough, tiredness and body aches, shortness of breath, a sore throat and in some cases diarrhoea. Nasal congestion was present only in 5% and eye symptoms only in <1% of cases according to early WHO reports.  COVID-19 is an illness with an acute onset.

What can you do?

  1. Comply with the regulations of the three week lockdown. If we all do our part we can curb the predicted exponential rise in infections which would overwhelm the healthcare system. Do your part and stay at home. #flattenthecurve.
  2. Self-quarantining for 14 days after travel.
  3. Pay attention to basic hygiene including: hand washing and using hand sanitizer; avoiding touching other people, your face and surfaces where the virus may be found; discarding used tissues immediately and keeping a suitable distance between yourself and other people.
  4. Asthmatics should continue to use their regular preventative asthma treatment; this will reduce the likelihood of asthma symptoms triggered by COVID-19 or any other respiratory infection. Inhaled and intranasal corticosteroids do not weaken the immune system and should be continued to ensure excellent asthma control.
  5. Prolonged use of oral corticosteroids may suppress the immune system, potentially causing more severe COVID-19 disease.
  6. Pay attention to using the correct technique with your inhalers and spacers.
  7. Keep reliever medication on hand to use should you experience asthma symptoms.
  8. An asthma action plan helps asthmatics to identify loss of asthma control and acute asthma exacerbations.  The action plan helps asthmatics to start home treatment and to know when to access healthcare.
  9. Get the flu vaccination.
  10. Acknowledge and manage personal and family anxiety.

Utilize the NICD website for up to date, reliable information. For COVID related queries contact the NICD public hotline on 0800 029 999

Additional Downloadable Resources

1. View Asthma, Allergies and COVID-19 Poster sponsored by Dr Reddy’s

Download COVID-19 Poster