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Asthma & COVID-19: What You Need to Know About Your Risk

Aug. 3, 2020 - Katie McCallum

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can cause a dry cough and shortness of breath, so it likely comes as no surprise that it can wreak havoc on the intricate respiratory system lying inside a person's chest.

Once the virus gains entry, it begins to cause injury to a person's airways and lungs. While anyone can get infected with the new coronavirus, some people have a higher risk of developing a more serious illness — including people with moderate-to-severe asthma.

"A person with asthma has lower respiratory reserve than a person with no lung problems at all," explains Dr. Tim Connolly, pulmonologist at Houston Methodist. "Because of this, these individuals are more vulnerable and generally have a harder time if their lungs are impacted by an acute coronavirus infection."

If you have moderate-to-severe asthma, here's what you need to know about your risk of developing COVID-19, as well as how to reduce your risk.

What we've learned about asthma and COVID-19

We're still learning exactly what happens in a person's body during COVID-19, but we do know quite a bit about how coronavirus affects a person's lungs during infection.

Interestingly, while serious illness can develop in people with moderate-to-severe asthma, it's not as prevalent as originally anticipated.

"Early on, we assumed that people with pre-existing lung issues, including asthma, would be disproportionately impacted by the virus," says Dr. Connolly. "But what we're actually seeing, however, is that COVID-19 appears to be targeting other high-risk groups more consistently — particularly people who are obese, diabetic or have vascular disease such as hypertension."

As to the reasoning behind this phenomenon, Dr. Connolly adds that it's still unclear.

"We don't fully understand why people with pre-existing lung conditions don't make up a larger majority of current COVID-19 cases as initially anticipated. Preliminary data suggests that people with asthma may make less of the receptor that the virus uses to invade the body, called ACE2 — making it more difficult for the virus to gain entry into the host. In addition, ongoing maintenance therapy with inhaled steroids, such as budesonide, may also confer an advantage for people with chronic lung conditions," explains Dr. Connolly.

That being said, Dr. Connolly stresses that those with asthma are likely still at higher risk for getting very sick as a result of COVID-19. This means that people with moderate-to-severe asthma should take extra precautions to protect their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Extra precautions a person with asthma should take

To protect our health and prevent the spread of COVID-19, each and every one of us should be practicing universal preventive measures, including social distancing, wearing masks in public and using excellent hand hygiene.

People with moderate-to-severe asthma, however, will need to make sure they're prepared and properly managing their asthma throughout this pandemic by doing the following:

  • Ensuring you continue to take the medications that are a part of your maintenance regimen
  • Finding your rescue inhaler and making sure it's full and up-to-date
  • Avoiding asthma triggers, particularly the ones that are common for you

 

"Right now, the best way for a person with asthma to prevent becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus altogether by social distancing and wearing a mask," adds Dr. Connolly. "If you have questions about your risk or your asthma treatment plan during this pandemic, it's important to talk to your doctor."

Next Steps:

 

Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.
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