Asthma & Coronavirus Questions Answered By Doctors

Updated: 
LukaTDB/E+/Getty Images

As coronavirus spreads around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that now is a time for prudence rather than panic. But, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, precautions are still important, especially for people whose respiratory health is already compromised. Coronavirus may have people with asthma particularly concerned.

Is Asthma A Risk Factor For Coronavirus?

According to a Feb 19 study published in the journal Allergy, asthma is not a risk factor for COVID-19. Researchers studied 140 patients who had been hospitalized with coronavirus. None of the 140 COVID-19 patients had asthma, leading researchers to believe that people with asthma are not at any greater risk of initially contracting coronavirus than the general population.

Still, experts caution that any type of respiratory illness, including coronavirus, can cause an asthma flare-up, which can then exacerbate the severity of that illness. "Folks with asthma, especially severe asthma, are at higher risk of developing severe disease from a respiratory virus." Dr. Sharon Orrange, MD, GoodRx Medical Expert and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) categorizes people with asthma as being at higher risk of getting more sick from COVID-19.

"Asthmatics who are 60 or older with any other diseases may be at higher risk," says Dr. Peter Gulick, D.O., infectious disease expert at Michigan State University. He tells Bustle that especially for this population, if someone is "on oral steroids, they may have to be more careful. Getting appropriate vaccines, like for flu and pneumonia, is critical."

What Should People With Asthma Do During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

"The best defense is a healthy immune system and hygienic practices," Dr. Orrange tells Bustle. "Patients should make sure they are getting a good night’s sleep, thoroughly washing their hands and avoiding touching their face. If you’re concerned you might have COVID-19, telemedicine services from board-certified medical professionals" are a good option.

"Patients with asthma may want to be more vigilant about having their inhalers — both their daily preventative inhaler and their rescue inhaler — on hand," says Dr. John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer of WebMD. "You also want to make sure that you have enough medicines if for some reason you are self-quarantined," Dr. Whyte tells Bustle. Dr. Orrange also encourages you to reach out to your doctor for refills now, even if you don't need them quite yet.

Dr. Gulick suggests that during the pandemic, people with asthma should take special care to make sure their lungs aren't hyperactive — maybe save the intense cardio for another time — and should work from home if possible.

How People With Asthma Should Respond To Coronavirus Symptoms

Dr. Gulick says that if you have a fairly regular cough due to asthma, you should monitor yourself closely. "If the cough changes, especially if it is coupled with fevers or increased fatigue and muscle aches," he suggests checking in with your doctor.

Dr. Orrange tells Bustle that the first thing people with asthma showing symptoms can do is "jump to their 'yellow zone' of their asthma action plan at the earliest onset of upper respiratory symptoms (cough, chest tightness, sore throat) to avoid developing a severe asthma exacerbation." Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, shortness of breath, and cough.

If you're particularly nervous about COVID-19 because you have asthma, it's understandable — but Dr. Whyte says the best thing to do is stay calm. "Over 80% of people who contract coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms/severity and the condition resolves on its own with supportive care," he tells Bustle. "This includes patients who have asthma." Still, maintaining basic hygiene during this time is especially important to protect both yourself and those who might be high-risk around you.

Experts:

Dr. John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer, WebMD.

Dr. Sharon Orrange, MD, GoodRx medical expert and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC

Dr. Peter Gulick, D.O., infectious disease expert at Michigan State University

This article was originally published on