Coronavirus: Why are people with asthma or COPD more vulnerable?

Mar 31, 2020
People who have underlying health conditions like asthma are more likely to get very sick if they contract the virus. Source: Getty.

If you have an existing lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, you have probably heard that you’re more likely to develop severe symptoms if you contract coronavirus. So why are people with asthma or COPD more vulnerable to Covid-19?

Asthma and coronavirus

There is no clear evidence as yet to determine if people with asthma are more susceptible to the virus, but Covid-19, like any respiratory virus, may make people’s asthma worse, putting them at risk of an asthma attack, or worse, pneumonia. Between 7 and 15 per cent of people over the age of 65 are currently living with the condition, although it can impact people of any age.

“When there’s a state of inflammation, there is a disruption of the normal mucosal lining of the lungs and it’s, therefore, easier for viruses of any type to stick to the roughened area, penetrate the lining and enter the cells to set up a potentially severe infection,” Dr Ross Walker tells Starts at 60.

In addition to following the government’s advice on social distancing and hygiene, Walker is warning people with asthma to take extra precautions.

“If you are an asthmatic, it’s important to follow your prescribed asthma management plan,” he advises. “Regularly assess your lung function with your own peak flow meter and take your usual medications, as prescribed.

“All of us, regardless of whether you’re asthmatic or not, should be practicing social distancing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth and the most important message is to wash your hands regularly for at least the time it takes you to sing happy birthday to yourself.”

Meanwhile, the National Asthma Council Australia recommends that people with asthma use their puffers with a spacer to get the most out of their medicines.

The organisation also recommends stocking up your prescriptions. “Make sure you have enough medication for at least a month, but don’t stockpile more than you need as this could lead to others with asthma missing out,” the organisation added. “If you are unwell, call ahead to your pharmacy so they can arrange minimal contact delivery.”

The organisation adds getting the flu vaccine is still important. “Take extra care during the upcoming flu season because respiratory infections, including colds and flu, can trigger asthma flare-ups.”

The National Asthma Council Australia also recommends getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

COPD and coronavirus

Just like asthma, people living with underlying health conditions like COPD, are at no greater risk of becoming infected with the virus than others, however, they are more likely to experience serious complications if they contract coronavirus. According to new research, those with COPD are 6.4 times more likely to develop a severe case of Covid-19 and 17.8 times more likely to need intensive care than those without.

Lung Foundation Australia has recently updated the information pages on its website, advising: “Based on this information and advice from the Department of Health, Lung Foundation Australia does not recommend people who are at a high risk of serious infection gathering together at meetings or participating in group activities at this time.”

If you have COPD, Lung Foundation Australia also advises that you complete an action plan with your health professional. A COPD action plan doesn’t take long to create and it could save your life.

Do you suffer from asthma or COPD?

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