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Asthma attack or COVID-19? Red flags to watch for

Friday, April 17th 2020, 3:05 pm - How to tell if you’re having a typical seasonal asthma attack or if it’s COVID-19

I’ve had asthma since I was a toddler. My poor mother.

In my early years, I spent weeks in the hospital and even had a lung collapse when I was a teenager. Thanks to the staff at the Saint John Regional Hospital, I pulled through and even managed to get a spot on my high school basketball team.

When all this talk about needing ventilators arose, I thought to myself, “Boy, can I ever tell you a story about ventilators?”.

When I reached adulthood, Advair became available and it changed my life forever. Instead of grasping for a blue rescue inhaler every time I had a flare-up due to exercise or allergy, the controller helped me manage my inflammation. This meant I needed to take it once every day so if I do get a trigger, I'm not as inflamed.

When COVID-19 came along, my first reaction was, “I sure am glad I have Advair.”

Still, I had a lot of fear thinking about the outcome of me being in a hospital on a ventilator.

I sat down with Asthma Canada president and CEO Vanessa Foran to get some clarity on questions surrounding COVID-19, like how to tell the difference between typical seasonal flare-ups and COVID-19 symptoms.

Go HERE for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic

She says developing a fever is the tipping point.

"One of the questions we are getting asked is how do we tell the difference between COVID-19 and an asthma attack, and while the symptoms are very similar for many people -- cough, shortness of breath, tightening in the chest -- the thing that you really need to look at is are you getting a sudden onset of fever,” Foran explains. “That would be a red flag for me so I would suggest that people contact their physician and self-isolate at that point."

There's also a whole whirlwind of misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and asthma circulating online.

"A lot of the misinformation has been around medication so there was a discussion about ibuprofen not being very good for people with asthma and COVID-19. That was inaccurate," Foran tells me.

"It was suggested by someone in another country and because we get global information it got out there and it is inaccurate."



The short answer is no but plan ahead.

"There's been discussion about hoarding and so we don't want to see any shortages that don't need to exist so what we recommend is that everybody just have a thirty-day supply," says Foran.

GettyImages-1140250438 - woman using inhaler Try to keep a 30-day supply of asthma medication at home. File photo courtesy: Getty Images.

You should also call your pharmacist a week in advance before you need your medication just to make sure it's in when you go in to pick it up.

In these uncertain times, try not to be too reliant on your rescue inhaler and remember to take your controller daily. Asthma Canada has a helpline staffed by certified respiratory educators you can contact at 1-866-787-4050.

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