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Background: There were substantial reductions in asthma exacerbations during the COVID-19 pandemic for reasons that remain poorly understood. We investigated changes in modifiable risk factors which might help explain the reductions in asthma exacerbations. Methods: Multilevel generalised linear mixed models were fitted to examine changes in modifiable risk factors for asthma exacerbations during 2020–2022, compared to pre-pandemic year (2019), using observational, routine data from general practices in the Oxford-Royal College of General Practitioners Research and Surveillance Centre. Asthma exacerbations were defined as any of GP recorded: asthma exacerbations, prescriptions of prednisolone, accident and emergency department attendance or hospitalisation for asthma. Modifiable risk factors of interest were ownership of asthma self-management plan, asthma annual review, inhaled-corticosteroid (ICS) prescriptions, influenza vaccinations and respiratory-tract-infections (RTI). Findings: Compared with 2019 (n = 550,995), in 2020 (n = 565,956) and 2022 (n = 562,167) (p < 0.05): asthma exacerbations declined from 67.1% to 51.9% and 61.1%, the proportion of people who had: asthma exacerbations reduced from 20.4% to 15.1% and 18.5%, asthma self-management plans increased from 28.6% to 37.7% and 55.9%; ICS prescriptions increased from 69.9% to 72.0% and 71.1%; influenza vaccinations increased from 14.2% to 25.4% and 55.3%; current smoking declined from 15.0% to 14.5% and 14.7%; lower-RTI declined from 10.5% to 5.3% and 8.1%; upper-RTI reduced from 10.7% to 5.8% and 7.6%. There was cluster effect of GP practices on asthma exacerbations (p = 0.001). People with asthma were more likely (p < 0.05) to have exacerbations if they had LRTI (seven times(x)), had URTI and ILI (both twice), were current smokers (1.4x), PPV vaccinated (1.3x), seasonal flu vaccinated (1.01x), took ICS (1.3x), had asthma reviews (1.09x). People with asthma were less likely to have exacerbations if they had self-management plan (7%), and were partially (4%) than fully COVID-19 vaccinated. Interpretation: We have identified changes in modifiable risk factors for asthma exacerbation that need to be maintained in the post-pandemic era. Funding: Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research and Health Data Research UK.

Original publication




Journal article


The Lancet Regional Health - Europe

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