A key measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to wear face masks on public transport. This is also the case in enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult. If you have asthma or breathing problems, you may or may not be able to wear a face mask or covering. In this article, we take you through the criteria for wearing a mask, how to manage your asthma to reduce the risk from coronavirus and useful ways to navigate the easing of the lockdown.
Why should we wear masks in public?
In many public spaces in which it is hard to social distance, it is highly recommended that you wear a mask. On public transport, it is law to do so. They are also needed in hospitals and doctors surgeries. The new rules do not include school transport, taxis and private hire vehicles. However, Uber has made the wearing of face coverings compulsory for all passengers and drivers.
Wearing a facemask does not substitute for two-metre social distancing, which you should observe in public wherever possible.
Face coverings are a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face covering coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is source control.
This recommendation is from what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.
COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another, so the use of cloth face coverings is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
Who should wear a mask?
- CDC recommends all people 2 years of age and older� wear a face covering in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult. (Government guidance puts the cut-off at 3 years old!)
- COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they have it. That’s why it’s important for everyone to wear cloth face coverings in public settings and practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from other people).
- Those caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19 at home or in a non-healthcare setting should also wear a cloth face covering. However, the protective effects—how well the cloth face covering protects healthy people from breathing in the virus—are unknown. To prevent getting sick, caregivers should also continue to practice everyday preventive actions: avoid close contact as much as possible, clean hands often; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; and frequently clean and disinfect surfaces.
Who should not wear a mask?
Cloth face coverings should not be worn by:
- Children younger than 2 years old.
- Anyone who has trouble breathing with conditions such as asthma
- Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance
If trying to work out whether wearing a mask is suitable for you, it’s a good idea to try one out at home, or on a short walk first. If it feels fine, then you can wear it, and it won’t harm you.
But if it makes it feel harder to breathe, you could try a few different types to see if there is one that suits you. But if you feel breathless or suffocated while wearing a face covering, then don’t wear one.
We know people may worry about being publicly confronted or fined for not wearing a face covering, as wearing them on public transport in England is now mandatory.
To help out, Asthma UK in line with several transport providers have been creating ‘exemption cards’. You can save and download the image at the top of this article or click here to download. If confronted, you can then show it on your phone to explain that you’re not wearing a face covering because you have asthma or breathing problems.
Managing Asthma during covid-19
When people with asthma get respiratory infections, it can set off their asthma symptoms.
The best action you can take is to follow these simple asthma management steps from Asthma UK:
- Keep taking your preventer inhaler daily as prescribed. This will help cut your risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.
- Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times and use it promptly if you have any asthma symptoms.
- Follow your asthma action plan, as this will help you recognise and manage your asthma symptoms when they start. It’s important to have an up-to-date action plan. Make sure your GP or asthma nurse sends you a digital copy after you’ve had your consultation, which may be over the phone or on a video call. Find out how to get an asthma action plan.
- Start a peak flow diary, if you have a peak flow meter. If you don’t have a peak flow meter, think about getting one from your GP or pharmacist, as it can be a good way of tracking your asthma and helping to tell the difference between asthma symptoms and COVID-19 coronavirus symptoms. It can also help your medical team to assess you over the phone or video.
- If you come down with flu, a cold, or any other respiratory infection, follow our tips for looking after your asthma when you’re not well.
- If you smoke it’s vital to quit now, as smoking may increase your risk of Covid-19 having a more serious impact on your health. Visit Smokefree for advice on how to give up smoking.
The NHS is there for you
It is important to remember that the NHS is there for you, not just if you have covid-19. If you are having an asthma attack, this is an emergency. You must follow the steps on your action plan and get your usual emergency care, including going to A&E or calling 999 if you need to.
If your asthma is gradually getting worse, you still need to make an appointment to talk to your GP.
Annual asthma reviews in some GP surgeries may be on hold. If this is the case for you, make sure you book an asthma review as soon as you are able to. These reviews help you manage your asthma as well as possible and can help you cut the risk of an asthma attack.
Managing Asthma as the lockdown eases
Many schools have now reopened for certain year groups. Young children have consistently been shown to have very low risk of serious illness from coronavirus. But if your child has asthma and you worry about them going back to school, the current government advice is to call your GP.
Dr Louise Fleming has shared her views on the pandemic’s impact on children, as well as tips for sending children with asthma back to school.
If your child is not going to attend school or college, let the school or college know, so they can continue supporting your child as well as they can. Going back to school can also trigger more asthma attacks, for a number of reasons.
Many employees are also returning to work if they can no longer work from home. Employees with asthma should stay at home as much as possible. This includes teachers and other key workers. They should be helped to work from home, either in your current role or an alternative role.
If working from home is not an option, your employer should move you to the safest on-site roles, where possible, so you can stay 2 metres from others. If this is not possible, your employer must carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk. You should continue to take care to minimise contact with other people outside your household.
If you do go back to work, work out the safest way to get there. Consider walking and cycling if you can or driving in a private vehicle. Try not to take public transport unless absolutely necessary.
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You can attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit https://firstaidforlife.org.uk or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.
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First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. We are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken on this information.