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Coronavirus and COVID-19

What should people with a lung condition do now?

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 and offer advice to help you make decisions

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.

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:

  • 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.

Following this advice is especially important if you have a lung condition.

Meeting friends and family

Restrictions and advice on meeting people is different across the 4 UK nations:

It’s important you follow local guidance for where you live or work. This will help to keep you and others safe. 

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.

Returning to work

If you have a long-term lung condition you should work from home if you 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 back to 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.

This guidance is also applicable to teachers. If you’re concerned, you should speak with your employer. If you’re in England, you can use the DSE guidance on returning to school in your conversation.

If you need support or advice returning to work, we recommend taking a look at the ACAS website.

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

Making decisions

As restrictions start to ease across the UK, you might be making decisions about what to do and places to go. 

You might be thinking about:

  • visiting friends and family
  • going out for dinner
  • using public transport

It’s important to remember the more people you see, the more chance the virus will spread. You should try to limit the number of people you see – especially over short periods of time.

Part of deciding whether or not to do something is down to your attitude towards risk. Try to weigh up the benefits of seeing friends and family against the likelihood of catching the virus. Everyone is different.

It’s OK to ask questions and to say no

It’s reasonable to ask ahead about arrangements, to help your decision. You might want to ask:

  • how many people will be there, and what are their views on social distancing and minimising risk?
  • what are the bathroom arrangements?
  • how big is the space?

And remember, if you don’t feel comfortable going somewhere, don’t feel pressured to.

The Scottish government has produced a quick guide that explains what sorts of activities are more COVID-safe than others. You might find this useful when deciding what to do.

Help if you’re feeling worried

Some people with lung conditions are telling us that they feel very worried and anxious about coronavirus.

It’s normal to have these sorts of feelings at a time like this if you live with a lung condition. It may help to talk to your GP or health care professional about how you are feeling and about what to do in your particular circumstances, particularly as lockdown rules change and you may be encouraged to go out more, see more people or go back to work.

Here’s some tips to help you cope:

  • 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

  • Register for support if you need it. For example, in England if you and 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 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.

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

What you can read next:

Last updated: Wednesday 16 September 2020

We hope you have found this content useful

We hope you have found this content useful. Our team of health experts is working tirelessly on a daily basis to provide the latest and most up to date health advice concerning coronavirus (COVID-19).

Record numbers of people now need our support. As a charity, we rely on donations from people like you. We do not yet know if we will be eligible for government help. However, our help and advice are only possible thanks to kind donations from people like you.

If you can, and are able, please donate now. Every pound will make a difference.


We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: September 2020. Due for review: September 2020

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.