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05th May 2020

How to tell the difference between #Covid-19 and asthma symptoms

Jade Hayden

“Keep control of the illness.”

Over 380,000 people in Ireland currently have asthma and 890,000 people will have it at some stage in their lifetime.

The spread of Covid-19 has in many cases exacerbated the worries of asthma patients, with six out of 10 being concerned that their underlying illness will cause them to develop a more serious form of coronavirus.

Today is World Asthma Day. May 5 marks a period of education around asthma symptoms and awareness for those living with the respiratory illness.

Asthma patients are not more likely to contract the virus in general, however the condition could make their symptoms worse if they were to contract the virus.

So, how can a patient tell the difference between asthma symptoms and Covid-19 symptoms?

Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Ruth Morrow, who sits on the Asthma Society of Ireland’s Medical Advisory Group, says that the cough associated with asthma will not be the same as that of a patient with Covid-19.

She tells Her that although the symptoms are similar, they are not entirely alike.

“It is a different kind of cough,” she says. “The asthma cough is usually a dry cough, or it’s a productive cough.

“The cough will be different with Covid-19, but if you’ve been living with asthma for a long time, you know what your own cough is like. The shallow breathing symptom will be different, it’ll be more severe with coronavirus.

“But if you do have asthma and you’re experiencing coughing symptoms, and your inhaler isn’t working, then you may need to consider that it’s not just asthma.”

People with asthma are not more susceptible to Covid-19, but if they contract the virus they could become more sick.

Asthma Society’s recent survey showed that 92 percent of patients are concerned about contracting the virus, while half agreed that they are not feeling confident in their medication at this time.

In a bid to reduce the panic surrounding Covid-19 and asthma, the Asthma Society and Sláintecare have launched a new WhatsApp service, Beating Breathlessness.

The support service is available to patients with asthma and COPD (and their family and carers), allowing them to message a respiratory specialist nurse about all aspects of their asthma management.

Ruth says that asthma patients shouldn’t panic about their symptoms because of the pandemic. Rather, they should be as prepared as they would be irrespective of the outbreak.

“Asthma can always be triggered more at this time of year anyway due to hay fever,” she says. “A lot of people who have asthma will have hay fever too, but patients can manage this properly and they can keep it under control.”

A crucial part of keeping asthma under control is having an asthma action plan; a step by step guide to help a patient manage their asthma day to day, and to recognise when it’s getting worse.

An asthma action plan includes a patient’s list of medication (and when they should be taking them), information on how to care for a patient, and what to do if asthma symptoms are getting worse.

The plan also includes information on what to do if a patient has an asthma attack, details of which can be found on Asthma Society’s website here.

“The most important thing, regardless of severity, is that patients continue to take their medicine,” says Ruth. “And that they don’t stop taking it.

“Patients should also have their inhaler on them at all times. They need to keep in control of the illness.”

If you are concerned about your asthma symptoms, you can contact the Asthma Society advice line on 1800 44 54 64, or contact the new WhatsApp service on 086 0590132.

You can find out more about this year’s Asthma Awareness Week here.