For Immediate Release
12 August 2021
A new survey by Asthma Australia reveals people with asthma are finding it difficult to access healthcare or being turned away by healthcare providers due to the similarities between asthma and COVID-19 symptoms – including coughing and shortness of breath.
It comes as a warning ahead of spring hay fever and asthma season with the peak consumer body for asthma urging people to get their seasonal preventative treatments now, to prevent symptoms putting them in this menacing situation.
Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman is concerned this trend could result in unexpected asthma hospitalisations and emergency department presentations at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain our communities.
“More than one in five Australians suffer from spring allergies and with a high proportion living with asthma, that’s a lot of people sneezing, coughing and getting short of breath.
“Now is the time to be proactive and prevent the symptoms from presenting in the first place. There is just too much at stake at this time.”
Asthma Australia’s Covid Healthcare Survey saw over 1,260 people participate and asked about healthcare access for their asthma in the last three months.
The survey shows that people have put off going to the doctor due to previous negative experiences, not wanting to have a COVID-19 test, or it just being too difficult to do. This has led to people either avoiding or being unable to access early treatment.
“They’ve told us they feel frustrated, discouraged, embarrassed, anxious, let down, and not listened to – like their asthma is not important,” Ms Goldman says.
“I encourage people to be insistent on at least a telehealth appointment or visit a pharmacist and actively discuss your seasonal allergies and asthma.
“We know asthma does not wait for a COVID-19 test, but these are the difficulties we find ourselves in whilst we struggle against a pandemic.”
The survey highlights 30% of people reported they were unable to see their GP in person until returning a negative COVID-19 test due to asthma symptoms looking like COVID-19; and 48% reported they had put off going to their usual GP about their asthma due to asthma symptoms looking like COVID-19.
Other insights indicate people with asthma felt judged/isolated/left out in the community due to the similarities of asthma and COVID-19 symptoms.
Some participants reported they chose to manage their asthma at home, where they would have usually sought care, due to the added difficulty and stigma. “Not having the right preventative care has meant people’s asthma symptoms have been more severe and lasted longer – resulting in potentially preventable emergency department (ED) presentations and hospital admissions,” Ms Goldman adds.
Elise Monge, 27, Canberra, says it is so important to prevent symptoms and to strike up a good relationship with a doctor ahead of the spring allergy season. In August last year, she presented to the ED short of breath. She completed the ACT Health Facilities Screening Questionnaire, which stated she could not enter based on her symptoms.
“I ticked shortness of breath as a symptom and the website deemed that I could not enter the hospital and I needed to go to a Covid clinic. I was overcome with anxiety and felt I was on the verge of an asthma attack. A hospital security guard saw this and permitted me to go in.
“I was baffled, nervous and scared thinking there was a chance I wasn’t going get the help I needed when I needed it.
“I don’t want others to go through what I have. Eventually I made it through and was treated in the Covid ward. It was a horrible experience. I can’t urge people enough, get ahead of the spring season now. Going to hospital or getting sick with asthma will create so much extra stress right now.”
The survey also shows that when people presented to the ED with an asthma flare-up, some were isolated in the COVID-19 ward due to their symptoms, as was the case with Ms Monge.
Ms Goldman says this is a confronting reminder as to why Asthma Australia is urging people to get prepared for spring now and avoid asthma symptoms in the first instance.
“Please take action to avoid your asthma and hay fever getting the better of you this spring. We know the challenges the pandemic has brought, and we don’t want to see people with asthma in life threatening situations or in Covid wards if they don’t need to be,” Ms Goldman explains.
Visit asthma.org.au to download your Spring Prep Guide before you make an appointment for telehealth or in person consult. If you have trouble seeing a doctor, it is recommended you speak with a pharmacist or call 1800 ASTHMA.