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Asthma and COVID-19

Private: Christopher Hardy Fanta, MD
Contributor Christopher Hardy Fanta, MD

If you have asthma, you may be concerned about how coronavirus infection (COVID-19) could affect your health. The virus is known to cause problems in the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 than other people. Because of these potential risks, it’s important for people with asthma to take extra steps to prevent infection and seek medical care if they have breathing problems caused by COVID-19.

Why are People with Asthma at Increased Risk of COVID-19 Complications?

“People with asthma are particularly vulnerable to viral respiratory tract infections because these infections can trigger an asthma attack, whether the infection is influenza, respiratory syncytial virus or coronavirus,” explains Christopher Hardy Fanta, MD, co-director of the Severe Asthma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In some people with moderate to severe asthma, COVID-19 may lead to pneumonia and respiratory disease. Viral pneumonia caused by COVID-19 may be difficult to manage in a person who has asthma.

“Remember: people with asthma get and survive the flu every year,” says Dr. Fanta. “Even if you get COVID-19, you can get through a serious viral infection. The odds are very much in your favor.”

How can People with Asthma Reduce Their Risk of COVID-19 Infection?

According to Dr. Fanta, the best defense against serious illness is maintaining good asthma control. This means people with asthma should keep taking all their daily asthma medications. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAI) notes that it’s especially important for people with asthma to take their medications to avoid risk of asthma attacks this spring. Managing your asthma well during allergy season can help you avoid visits to the emergency department or urgent care, where you may be exposed to COVID-19.

“People with asthma need to be hyper-vigilant in avoiding exposure to coronavirus,” says Dr. Fanta. “The techniques that they can use to avoid exposure are the same as everyone else, but they must do so with extra effort. These steps include staying home, avoiding close physical contact (physical distancing of approximately 6 feet) in public, no group activities, frequent handwashing with soap and water or alcohol-based gels (with at least 60-percent alcohol) and sanitizing surfaces. It’s the era of elbow bumps rather than kisses on the cheek.”

If a Person with Asthma has COVID-19 Symptoms, What Should They Do?

If you have asthma, closely monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms and call your health provider if you think you have coronavirus infection. Dr. Fanta recommends patients have a one-month supply of asthma medication at home during the outbreak.

“If one develops fever, a new cough, generalized achiness, new loss of a sense of smell, and/or diarrhea, seek medical attention for possible COVID-19 infection,” says Dr. Fanta. “Fever, in particular, cannot be attributed to asthma alone. Keep using all your asthma medications while seeking medical help.”

What’s the Best Way to Manage COVID-19 Infection if You Have Asthma?

You can manage a mild case of COVID-19 infection at home. It’s important to also self-quarantine to avoid spreading the infection to others.

“If you have COVID-19 infection, it’s best to use your inhaler to administer your asthma medication rather than your nebulizer,” advises Dr. Fanta. “Using a nebulizer would aerosolize the germ and spread it widely, like a whole series of uncovered coughs and sneezes.”

If you have COVID-19 symptoms or symptoms of another viral infection, your asthma isn’t under control and you find yourself short of breath following light exertion, it’s time to seek emergency medical attention. Work together with your health care provider to decide if you should get care in a respiratory infection clinic or an emergency department.

Are There any Potential Long-Term Health Effects for a Person with Asthma Who Recovers from COVID-19?

“We do not know of any long-term harmful lung injury from COVID-19 infection,” says Dr. Fanta. “The assumption is that with recovery comes restoration of health, as is the case after the flu.”

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Private: Christopher Hardy Fanta, MD
Christopher Hardy Fanta, MD

Christopher Hardy Fanta, MD, is a pulmonologist, co-director of the Severe Asthma Program, and director of the Mass General Brigham Asthma Center.

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Get additional tips on keeping your family healthy and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more COVID-19 articles.