Fewer people sought help for severe asthma attacks during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have said.
Three research papers published in the journal Thorax suggest people with asthma were seen less frequently by their GP with a serious attack, and were less likely to be admitted to hospital than before the pandemic.
Due to the fact asthma can be made worse by viral respiratory infections, it was expected people with asthma may suffer more as Covid-19 swept the country.
Patients with the most serious type of asthma requiring hospital admissions in the past, or tablet steroids, have either shielded or been eligible for a Covid-19 jab as part of priority group 6.
The new research suggests that stay-at-home messages and fears of catching Covid-19 may have dissuaded patients with worsening asthma from seeking help.
Alternatively, shielding, restrictions on travel and social contact, reduced air pollution and less transmission of flu and other respiratory illnesses could have led to a reduction in severe asthma cases during lockdown.
In one paper looking at England, there was almost a 20% fall in severe asthma attacks, while a second paper on Scotland and Wales suggested the number of cases resulting in emergency hospital admission fell by more than a third (36%).
In Wales, researchers noted there was a large spike in GP prescriptions for asthma medication the week before lockdown – 121% more inhaled corticosteroids and 133% more oral corticosteroid prescriptions compared with the five-year average.
In the third paper looking at South Korea, there was a fall in hospital admissions for pneumonia, flu, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and innovation at Asthma UK, said: “The pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for people’s mental and physical health and this research highlights the importance of understanding how lockdown can affect people with respiratory conditions such as asthma.
“We understand that the temporary drop in air pollution levels and fewer people picking up the flu during lockdown could have caused this reduction in the number of people experiencing asthma exacerbations.
“However, many of our supporters have told us they were afraid to seek help during the pandemic and our previous research shows that 66.7% of people with asthma who had an attack dealt with it at home.
“This could explain the decrease in the number of people attending GP appointments for asthma so it is important that we do not assume that because GPs are seeing fewer patients with asthma attacks that people aren’t experiencing them.
“We would urge anyone who is worried about their asthma symptoms or who has had an asthma attack to speak to their GP and get help at an early stage.
“It is also vital that the NHS ensures everyone with asthma can get an appointment when they need it.”