Coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronavirus and living with a lung condition

This page helps you understand how you can reduce your risk of catching or becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. You should always follow the government guidance for your area, to make sure you are taking sensible steps to reduce the risk of getting or spreading coronavirus.

We explain how you can reduce your risk of catching coronavirus and your risk of becoming seriously ill if you were to get coronavirus. We also explain how your usual care might be different, the support that’s available if you need it and what to do if you’re feeling worried.

On this page:

Your risk of becoming ill with COVID-19

Different factors affect your risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. Having a long-term lung condition is one of them. But it isn’t the only factor that increases your risk. Age is the biggest risk factor, with those aged 80 and older at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.

Everyone is different, and your own level of risk depends on different factors. This makes it difficult to give blanket advice about the level of risk from having a lung condition.

Some people with long-term lung conditions are at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. These people belong to a group described as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. You can read more about this on our dedicated shielding page.

Reducing your risk of catching COVID-19

We should all be doing what we can to prevent the spread of coronavirus to help protect ourselves and others. This includes:

  • following the government guidance for where you live or work
  • keeping your distance from anyone outside your household
  • washing your hands often, using soap and warm water, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • avoiding crowded places and not meeting up with large groups of people – either indoors or outdoors 
  • wearing a face covering if you can wear one (mainly to help you protect others). Read more about why you should try to wear a face covering, and what to do if you can't.

Restrictions on what you can and can’t do are different across the 4 nations:

Cases where you live

If there are more people infected in your area, this increases your chance of being exposed to the virus. Find out the official numbers of cases in your area.

Quit smoking

If you smoke, it's vital to quit. People who smoke are five times more likely to get flu and twice as likely to get pneumonia. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to protect yourself from viral infections, including coronavirus.

Get tested regularly when you have no symptoms

Regular testing is an important step in understanding and slowing the spread of coronavirus. Self-testing can help stop asymptomatic people inadvertently spreading the virus to others. 

Lateral flow tests are available to certain people across the UK. These tests can be taken at home and give you a result in 30 minutes. They should only be taken by people who are asymptomatic (have no symptoms).

All results from lateral flow tests must be reported, whether the result is positive, negative or void. Full instructions on how to complete the test and how to report results are given in each pack. How often you should self-test may vary depending on your circumstances (for example, your workplace requirements) and current national or local guidelines.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, wherever you live in the UK, you should self-isolate and request a PCR test online.

Everyone in England can now get free lateral flow tests for COVID-19. They can be ordered online - this service can only be used by people over 18 who cannot get tests from their work, school, college or university. Each pack contains 7 tests and one pack can be ordered per household each day.

If you live in Scotland, you can get free lateral flow tests if you have been asked to test regularly by your work, education, local authority or NHS Public Health team. Read more about getting tested with no symptoms in Scotland on the Scottish government website.

In Wales, lateral flow testing is currently being offered to people who work in a range of settings, such as NHS staff, social care staff and in education settings. People who cannot work from home can also get free lateral flow tests at home. If you are eligible for free home tests, you can pick up self-test kits at certain test sites. For more information and a list of where you can collect tests, take a look at the Welsh government website.

In Northern Ireland, asymptomatic testing for key workers is now available. You can read more about workforce testing on the Health NI website.

Going into work

Current guidance is that wherever you are in the UK, everyone should work from home if they can. If this isn’t possible, your employer should make sure your workplace is COVID-safe. The governments in all UK nations have released guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during coronavirus:

If you do go into work, think about how you will get there. Walk or cycle, if you can, or drive in your own car. If you need to use public transport, try speaking to your employer about changing your working hours so you can travel at quieter times of the day.

You should also think about trying to reduce the number of people you spend time with on a regular basis. Your employer could support you in this by changing shift patterns so you’re with the same people each time, or by working in smaller teams.

If you’re concerned about your health and safety in the workplace, you should speak with your employer in the first instance. If you can’t find a resolution, try contacting your trade union or getting advice from ACAS.

Going into school

As schools start to reopen at different times across the UK, systems have been put in place to enable this return to happen as safely as possible. This includes new guidance on face coverings for secondary school students and staff, and the introduction of regular testing.

It’s now understood that very few children are at a high risk of severe illness from the virus, even if they have an underlying health condition. If you are worried about your child returning to school, you should make sure they fully understand the rules on social distancing, the importance of good hygiene and what they can do to protect themselves from catching the virus. 

Government guidance on going into work is also applicable to school staff – your employer should do what they can to make your working environment safe. If you’re concerned about your health and safety in the workplace, you should speak with your employer in the first instance. If you can’t find a resolution, try contacting your trade union or getting advice from ACAS.

Read more about going into work if you are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV).

Your usual care

You should still get the usual care for your condition at this time, but some parts of it might be done a bit differently. Your health care professionals at your GP surgery or at hospital clinics are likely to be doing most of their appointments over the phone or by video. If they still want to see you in person, they may ask you to come to see them. You can find out more about technology and your health care in our new guide.

Some routine appointments may be postponed, such as annual reviews of your care. But annual reviews are important to ensure your condition is managed as well as possible and to reduce the risk of a flare-up of your symptoms. So do book an annual review as soon as you are able to.

Pulmonary rehabilitation courses have been paused, but have a look at our online videos or download our exercise handbook to keep exercising.

What if I get more out of breath than usual?

If you are:

  • struggling to breathe or
  • feel like you’re panting or
  • having difficulty speaking or
  • feeling like you’re choking

use your usual techniques to get your breathing under control. If these don’t work as quickly as they usually would, call 999 for help. The NHS is still there to look after you, and it’s important to get the help you need for your lung condition.

If you are more breathless than usual and recognise the signs of a flare-up of your symptoms, follow your flare-up plan if you have one. You’ll start with breathing control exercises. You may have learned them at pulmonary rehabilitation if you’ve been on a course. If you don’t have a plan or haven’t attended PR, try using your reliever inhaler more (if you have been prescribed one) and take a look at our advice about breathlessness, including ways to control your breathing. If that doesn’t help after a few hours, tell your GP or call 111.

In these worrying times, you may be feeling more anxious and this may also make you breathe faster and tense your breathing muscles. Read about anxiety and how to manage it if you’re living with a long-term lung condition.

Remember: Always get medical help if you get out of breath suddenly and unexpectedly.

What if my symptoms flare up?

It may be tricky to work out whether new symptoms are due to COVID-19 or due to an exacerbation or flare-up of your condition. Typically, exacerbations of COPD, bronchiectasis and asthma are not associated with a high fever.

It’s important you know the signs of an exacerbation or flare-up in your condition and have a plan in place about what to do. Take a look at our information on COPD and bronchiectasis flare-ups and the Asthma UK action plan. You should follow your usual steps to manage an exacerbation or flare-up, including getting medical help if you need to.

If you live with bronchiectasis and develop a fever and cough, but feel well, try to clear your airways more often and take paracetamol to reduce fever. If you become more unwell, seek medical advice. If you have a home supply of antibiotics, as many people with bronchiectasis do, only take this if your sputum increases in amount or becomes discoloured. Antibiotics will not work against a virus, but will treat a bacterial infection.

If you have active or latent TB, there is currently no evidence that you are at more at risk from COVID-19. It is important not to stop your TB medication if you feel worse, but to seek advice from your local TB team.

What if I have symptoms of coronavirus?

If you think you may have coronavirus symptoms, you should get a test and not leave your home until you get your result. Anyone you live with, and anyone in your support bubble, must stay at home until you get your result as well. For more information on what to do if you have coronavirus symptoms, go to the NHS website.

Use the 111 online coronavirus service if:

  • you’re worried about your symptoms
  • you’re not sure what to do.

It can be difficult to know whether symptoms you’re experiencing are COVID-19, or something else. Our symptom checker might help.

Go to BLF symptom checker (PDF, 371KB)

Measuring the oxygen levels in your blood

If you test positive for coronavirus, and after assessing how COVID is affecting you and your breathing, your GP may decide it would be useful for you to have a pulse oximeter at home. Pulse oximeters measure the oxygen levels in your blood. This will help your GP keep an eye on you at home and let them know if it will be safer for you to be seen and treated at the hospital.

If they decide you should have a pulse oximeter at home, your GP will talk to you about how to get a pulse oximeter to you. They will tell you how to use it and how to record your blood oxygen levels in a diary – they may use a video call to talk you through this – and arrange how often you should let them know your readings. They'll also explain when you might need to seek medical help sooner.

When can I get the coronavirus vaccine?

The order people will be offered the vaccine is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The main criteria used to decide how soon you get a vaccine is your age. This is because the older you are, the higher your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19.

People with a long-term lung condition that puts them at greater risk but who aren’t clinically extremely vulnerable, will be in priority group 6.

People who are clinically extremely vulnerable and under the age of 70 will be in priority group 4.

You can read more about the coronavirus vaccine on our dedicated FAQ page.

What support can I get if I need it?

If you need extra help, such as getting food shopping or medicine deliveries, support is available across the UK. Read more about support that’s available if you’re in the clinically extremely vulnerable category (the shielding group).

In all 4 nations, you can get in touch with your local COVID Mutual Aid group. They’ll put you in touch with people who live locally who’ll be able to help you.

In England, if you meet certain criteria you can get support from the NHS volunteer responders. They can do things like helping you with shopping, getting prescriptions or just checking in to see how you are doing. Register for support online or by calling 0808 196 3646. There are equivalent services in the devolved administrations. 

You might be entitled to welfare benefits. For more information on what you might be entitled to, take a look at our information or get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

Help if you’re feeling worried

It’s understandable to be feeling worried or anxious at a time like this, especially if you live with a long-term lung condition. But if you’re feeling like you’re struggling to cope, you should speak to your GP or health care professional. They’ll be able to offer you advice on things you can do to help you cope, and in some cases offer you treatment to help you feel better.

Here are some tips to help you look after your mental health:

  • Only look at reliable sources of information about coronavirus that are updated regularly, such as the NHS, to help you feel more in control

  • Watch out for bad habits and try to keep active. Try our exercise videos or the NHS website. Don’t increase the amount of alcohol you drink

  • Keep in touch with your friends and family – in stressful times we cope better with support from those close to us. Read about the importance of talking to others and how to get started in our technology for lung health guide

  • Ask for support if you need it. You can also get in touch with thousands of local mutual aid groups across the UK

  • Involve your family, including your children, in plans to keep well

The Mental Health Foundation has suggested these and other ways to look after your mental wellbeing during the outbreak. The government has also created guidance on looking after your mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

For the most up to date information and guidance visit the NHS website.

What you can read next:

Last updated: Friday 16 April 2021

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Last medically reviewed: April 2021. Due for review: April 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.