GP practices have seen a 20% decrease in patients coming forward with asthma-related issues during the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new research undertaken by the University of Edinburgh.
The study, which was the first to assess how asthma patients have been affected by Covid lockdown measures, was undertaken by BREATHE – a health and data research hub for respiratory health – and the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research at Edinburgh University and will be published in the journal Thorax.
Asthma affects more than five million people in the UK, and GPs report over six million consultations per year for asthma exacerbations. During the first UK lockdown of the Covid pandemic, the study found that GP practices saw fewer patients than usual for asthma-related issues.
The researchers used the Optimum Patient Care Database to identify over 100,000 patients from nearly 792 GP practices across the UK who had had at least one asthma exacerbation since 2016. GP visits between January and August 2020 were analysed, with the first lockdown starting on 23 March, and compared against visits for the same period in the years 2016 to 2019.
Fewer asthmatic patients visited their GP during the lockdown period. The researchers saw the decline across men and women of all ages and in all regions, excluding London and the North East. The data shows that mild exacerbations reduced during the pandemic but the researchers found no reduction in the rate of severe asthma attacks requiring hospitalisation.
Dr Ahmar Shah from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Until now, we didn’t know how these patients were being affected by lockdown. The data shows an overall reduction in asthma attacks seen at the GP.’
He added: ‘However, it’s not clear whether this was an actual improvement in asthma due to reduced pollution and fewer opportunities for other viruses to spread or whether patients were reluctant to attend their doctor’s surgery during the pandemic.’
The researchers have stated that further research will help explain the reasons behind their findings.
This comes as research published earlier this month in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, found that high levels of anxiety seen during the pandemic make severe asthma worse. The researchers report that mental health can have a significant role in managing chronic diseases, and high anxiety is a potential risk factor for loss of asthma symptom control.