Easing of COVID-19 Restrictions Doubled the Risk of Severe Asthma Attacks

COVID-19 affects the lungs and airways, and still presents a major threat to the public at large. The effects of COVID-19 pose particular danger to individuals who are immunocompromised or have lung diseases, such as asthma. An inflammatory lung disease that causes a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow, and produce extra mucus, asthma makes it difficult for the individual to breathe. Approximately 300 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with asthma, and for many people with asthma, COVID-19 is associated with prolonged symptoms and worsening asthma control.

Before vaccines were made widely available to the public, social distancing measures (e.g., curfews and lockdowns) were mandated in many countries. The introduction of these measures was associated with reduced rates of transmission of the coronavirus and other acute respiratory pathogens. However, there is limited data examining whether the relaxation of social distancing restrictions is associated with an uptick in acute respiratory infections (ARIs) and asthma exacerbations.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London “sought characterize changes in behaviors influencing respiratory viral transmission following relaxation of restrictions and to establish whether changes in these behaviors coincided with increases in COVID-19, non-COVID-19 ARI and asthma exacerbations.”

In a study published in Thorax, researchers conducted a population-based longitudinal study utilizing data collected from 2,312 individuals with doctor-diagnosed asthma participating in Queen Mary’s COVIDENCE UK study. The information collected included details on the use of face coverings, social mixing, incident ARIs, and severe asthma exacerbations through monthly online questionnaires between November 2020 to April 2022.

Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK from April 2021 onwards coincided with reduced use of face coverings, increased social mixing, increases in COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 ARIs and severe asthma exacerbations. At one point, after the relaxation of restrictions, the risk of severe asthma attack nearly doubled.

The researchers presented their findings at the British Thoracic Society meeting.  At the meeting, Professor Adrian Martineau, lead author of the research and Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London, stated “Our study was observational, so it can’t prove cause-and-effect. But our findings do raise the possibility that certain elements of the public health measures introduced during the pandemic — such as wearing facemasks — could help in reducing respiratory illnesses moving forward.”