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Sharp Health News

What people with asthma should know about COVID-19

March 27, 2020

What people with asthma should know about COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic is at the forefront of the world’s attention. Though much more research is still needed about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), what we do know is that it attacks the respiratory system. This puts people with existing medical conditions — such as a respiratory illness or a weakened immune system — at greater risk of severe illness.

For the 2.5 million Americans living with asthma, this can be an especially concerning time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization have listed asthma as a condition that puts individuals at a heightened risk of being seriously affected by COVID-19.

Dr. Kaveh Bagheri, a pulmonologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, explains why people with asthma should be cautious during this time, and what additional steps they should take to protect themselves.

Asthma is a condition in which an individual’s airways suddenly become swollen and produce extra mucus, usually as a result of an allergic reaction or other hypersensitivity. These episodes can be mild to severe and are characterized by fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache and new loss of taste or smell.

“Simply having asthma or any other chronic lung disease does not in and of itself predispose individuals to a higher likelihood of contracting COVID-19 any more than for influenza and other infectious diseases,” says Dr. Bagheri. “Though there may not be a direct link between the two conditions, when patients with asthma are infected with COVID-19, their asthma symptoms can worsen, and they may be having a more severe condition than a patient who does not have asthma.”

Recommendations for people with asthma
Dr. Bagheri recommends patients with chronic lung diseases — including asthma — follow preventive measures, such as hand-washing, social distancing, wearing a face covering when around others outside their household and not touching their face. It is important to avoid nonessential travel and to disinfect surfaces often, including items that are most frequently touched such as cellphones and doorknobs. People with asthma should also be aware of the difference in symptoms between asthma and COVID-19:

Asthma episode:
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Wheezing cough
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose and/or sneezing
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell and taste
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
Patients with asthma should also continue to take their asthma medications as prescribed to manage their condition. This could include inhalers, steroids or antihistamine allergy medication. It is a misconception that antihistamines weaken the immune system, so it is not advised to stop taking such medication.

The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America does not recommend stockpiling an excessive amount of such medications as it could create a shortage for people who need them immediately. Keeping a 30-day supply is recommended, so there is no need to rush to the pharmacy or buy over-the-counter medicine in bulk.

While there is still much to learn about COVID-19, patients with underlying conditions can prepare themselves by taking a few simple precautions and remaining vigilant about their health. Please see the CDC website for a complete list of symptoms of COVID-19.

Learn what Sharp HealthCare is doing to screen for COVID-19.

This story was updated on June 19, 2020.

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