14 March 2020
By Elaine Murphy
The Asthma Society of Ireland is advising people with asthma to be extra vigilant in their asthma management and follow the advice set out by the HSE, amidst growing coronavirus concerns.
Sarah O’Connor, CEO of the Asthma Society, said: “We have been inundated with calls from individuals with asthma and COPD who are extremely worried about how coronavirus will affect them if they get it and what additional precautions they can take to minimise their chances of contracting the virus. Unfortunately, international data indicates if people with asthma and other respiratory conditions contract coronavirus, the health impact can be more severe; they are more likely to experience complications and to need hospital treatment.
The Asthma Society has been liaising continuously with the HSE over the past number of weeks in relation to this healthcare challenge. We have communicated to the HSE the needs and very acute concerns of respiratory patients. We welcome increased engagement from the HSE with patient organisations in the last 24 hours and updated advice that has been provided for people in vulnerable groups, such as those with a long-term respiratory illness.
We have urged the HSE to develop specific COVID-19 advice for people with long-term respiratory illnesses, as has already been created for other disease areas, like cancer. People need to know that they are doing everything in their power to manage their illness and protect themselves from coronavirus. They also need reassurance that they will receive the healthcare they need and that employers will recognise their particular vulnerability at this time. Healthcare professionals also need leadership on clinical best practice. This guidance is best provided by the HSE.
We are extending the hours of our COPD and Asthma Adviceline to meet increased demand – this free service is available on 1800 44 54 64 – and we will do everything we can to continue to inform, support, advise and reassure people with asthma or COPD and their families on our website, social media channels and through our other services. Our website – www.asthma.ie – includes the most up-to-date information available to us on how best to manage respiratory conditions and coronavirus and this will be updated regularly. In the absence of more detailed advice specific to people with long-term respiratory illnesses, the Asthma Society has developed a Frequently Asked Questions section on coronavirus for asthma and COPD patients in particular. This can be found on our website.”
At the moment, the most important thing that people with asthma or COPD can do is to ensure that their underlying condition is well managed, which is detailed below and on our website. The HSE has advised people from vulnerable groups, which includes people with a long-term respiratory illness, to ‘self-separate’. The Asthma Society is strongly recommending that patients, their carers and close family and friends closely follow the HSE’s advice on how to avoid spreading the virus.
Top Tips for Managing your Asthma
- Take your preventer inhaler as prescribed. This will decrease your risk suffering an asthma attack and reduce your asthma symptoms. Check out the Asthma Society’s information on preventer inhalers here and our recent SafetyCare campaign here
- Have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan which will help you recognise when your asthma is deteriorating – download one here
- Have an up-to-date Communications Card which will help you manage your COPD – download one here
- Always carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you in case of an asthma emergency – reliever inhaler over-reliance
- Know the 5 Step Rule – which will help you manage an asthma attack if one occurs – download our Asthma Attack Card here
- Know your asthma triggers in order to avoid them where possible – check out our information on asthma triggers here
- Ensure you are practicing proper inhaler technique – check our Inhaler Technique page for demonstrations of all the inhalers on the Irish market here
- If your inhaler requires a spacer, we recommend you use one to ensure best medication delivery – check out our information on spacer usage here
- Do not smoke and avoid areas where smoke is present if possible
- If you feel like your symptoms are deteriorating, or if you are experiencing a “new” fever or “new” cough – call your GP as soon as possible and they will support and advise you
- Get your prescription filled to ensure you have enough medication for one month – the Department of Health and Irish Pharmacy Union have assured us that there is no need to stock up beyond that
Sarah O’Connor, CEO of the Asthma Society, concluded:
While the Asthma and COPD Adviceline has expanded its working hours and appointments to meet patient needs at this time, we are experiencing unprecedented demand for our supports and services. While appointments are scheduled over the weekend, we will not have the staffing capacity to answer all calls immediately over the course of the weekend. We will return every call if a voicemail is left with contact details but please bear with us as we work to look after a large cohort of patients.
For public and healthcare professional safety reasons, we have deferred our Asthma in the Pharmacy nurse clinics for March and we will confirm our decision on April clinics in coming days. We ask that patients follow the HSE’s guidance at this time and that they stay safe and look after themselves and their families at this time.”
While the office is closed, the Asthma Society will be unable to post any website sales – these will be processed and delivered after the offices are re-opened.
The Society runs a free Asthma and COPD Adviceline on 1800 44 54 64. Callers can speak to an specialist nurse to get practical advice about managing their or their child’s asthma triggers within the home.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of varying severity that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry the air in and out of the lungs. People with asthma have airways that are extra sensitive to substances (or triggers), which irritate them. Common triggers include cold and flu, cigarette smoke, dust, mould, scented candles and allergic responses to pollen, furry or feathery animals or house-dust mites.
When the airways come into contact with an asthma trigger, the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower. The lining of the airways swell and produce sticky mucus. As the airways narrow, it becomes difficult for the air to move in and out. That is why people with asthma wheeze and find breathing difficult.
Whilst there is no cure, asthma can be controlled by avoiding triggers and by the use of ‘reliever’ and ‘controller’ medication. Relievers are medicines that people with asthma take immediately when asthma symptoms appear. Controllers help calm the airways and stop them from being so sensitive. Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about which treatment is most suitable for you. All patients with asthma are also advised to have a tailored asthma action plan, a crucial part of patient self-management, which helps patients control their asthma.
About the Asthma Society of Ireland
The Asthma Society of Ireland is the national charity dedicated to empowering Ireland’s 470,000 people with asthma to take control of their asthma by providing them and their families with information, education, services and support. They are focused on representing people with asthma and working to improve their health outcomes.