Coronavirus: Asthma Packs Myth Debunked

26 Mar 2020

We understand the media engagement and social media discussion of “rescue packs” for patients came from the UK, reported as a support for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as part of a national coronavirus response. The National Health Service (UK) yesterday released a statement indicating that this information is inaccurate and advising patients to continue managing their condition as usual. They have stipulated that, while "rescue packs" for people with illnesses such as asthma or COPD do exist, they have little to do with coronavirus.

Similarly, in Ireland, “rescue packs”, which contain antibiotic and steroidal medication, do exist in a very limited setting. They are in very rare circumstances provided to patients who work very closely with their GP as part of a closely monitored self-management plan. They are typically provided to patients with the severest form of asthma or COPD, specifically suitable for patients who are very well versed in managing and understanding their symptoms due to the severity of their condition. In these circumstances, rescue packs are given with clear and specific instruction and are meant to be used only where symptoms are considerably exacerbated and the patient does not have immediate access to their GP. Upon using a “rescue pack”, the patient is obliged to contact their GP within 24 hours and seek further medical advice, and treatment where needed. Misuse or overuse of the medication in “rescue packs” can have a variety of unintended consequences and can involve risks of a serious nature.

These include masking symptoms during medical assessment, being considered an appropriate treatment by the patient where emergency response is actually needed, used inappropriately (for example, where the issue is infection rather than exacerbation of existing condition and risk of resistance bugs). 

“Rescue packs” are not for widespread use by asthma or COPD patients and are not recommended as part of a national healthcare response to coronavirus.  

Asthma and COPD patients in Ireland should continue to manage their condition as advised by their GP, as reaffirmed in relevant communications made by the HSE in recent weeks.