What to Know About Asthma and COVID-19

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Asthma is a condition that affects your lungs, causing repeated episodes of wheezing, chest tightness, breathlessness, and coughing. If you already have asthma, you might be concerned about what it means if you contract SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

At present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there may be an increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19 if you have moderate or severe asthma. However, research is ongoing and changing regularly. 

If you have concerns about asthma and COVID-19, there are several steps you can take to manage your asthma and lower the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. 

Adult using asthma inhaler while wearing a face mask to prevent COVID-19

Xesai / E+ / Getty Images

Asthma and COVID-19 Risk

Although the CDC warns that there may be a potential higher risk of severe symptoms if you have moderate-to-severe asthma, there is currently little clinical evidence to determine an increased risk of COVID-19 disease severity in people with asthma.

Several studies have shown that asthma is not a risk factor for developing severe symptoms of COVID-19. These include a June 2020 cohort study of more than 1,500 patients hospitalized in the U.S. Another study looked at over 11,000 COVID-19 patients with asthma in New York City in the first months of 2020 and found no increased mortality.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) also states that there appears to be no indication that asthma is a risk factor for contracting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Although people with asthma are not considered high risk for contracting or developing severe symptoms of COVID-19, it is still essential to keep asthma under control.

Complications of Asthma and COVID-19

When any type of respiratory virus is present within the local community, people with asthma should take precautions. Respiratory viruses can trigger and worsen asthma symptoms, potentially affecting your nose, throat, and lungs.

In severe cases, there is also a risk that COVID-19 could cause an asthma attack, lead to pneumonia, or lead to acute respiratory disease. Asthma is not considered to increase your risk of catching the virus, having worse symptoms, or prolonging recovery from COVID-19.

However, children with some underlying medical conditions are more at risk of severe illness than those without. Still, the evidence on which underlying medical conditions are associated with increased risk in children is limited.

Symptoms of asthma and COVID-19 can be similar, making it difficult to differentiate between the conditions. However, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) advises that:

  • Coughing is a symptom commonly seen in both conditions. 
  • Other common asthma symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and rapid breathing may sometimes be seen in COVID-19.
  • Fever is often present with COVID-19 but rarely associated with asthma. 
  • Weakness and fatigue can sometimes be associated with both conditions. 
  • Loss of smell, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, headaches, and a sore throat are sometimes seen in COVID-19 but not associated with asthma.

Feeling Unwell?

Symptom information is constantly changing. If you have a cough, fever, or symptoms of COVID-19, it is best to seek medical advice immediately. 

An indirect complication of COVID-19 and asthma that must be considered is that disinfectants can trigger an asthma attack. Therefore, if you are disinfecting to reduce the risk of COVID-19, you should take precautions to reduce the risk of an asthma attack. The CDC advises:

  • Ask an adult who does not have asthma to disinfect surfaces and objects that require cleaning.
  • Stay out of any room/area while disinfectant is being used (and just after).
  • Choose disinfectants that are less likely to cause an asthma attack.
  • If you feel a cleaning product or disinfectant is affecting your breathing, move out of the area immediately and follow your asthma action plan.
  • Always use products safely, following the directions on the product label. Ensure appropriate protection is worn, and make sure there is adequate ventilation when disinfecting.
  • Ensure you have ease of access to your asthma treatments, emergency medication, and phone numbers to your local health facilities.

Asthma Treatments and COVID-19

The CDC advises that you should not stop any of your asthma medications or make changes to your asthma treatment plan without talking to your healthcare provider first. Asthma medication is not considered to interfere with COVID-19 outcomes or prognosis.

Continuing to take your asthma medication as prescribed will help you reduce the risk of triggering an asthma attack. The AAAAI states that the best thing a person with asthma can do during the pandemic is to keep their asthma under control.

The CDC offers the following tips for keeping asthma under control:

  • Do not make any changes to your asthma medication without consulting a medical professional.
  • Continue to take all of your prescribed asthma medication as normal, and know how to use your inhaled medication effectively.
  • Follow your asthma action plan.
  • Always carry your reliever inhaler with you in case symptoms are triggered.
  • Ask your doctor for a 30-day emergency supply of your asthma medication to keep at home if you have to quarantine for a long time.
  • Try to avoid asthma triggers and reduce stress where possible.
  • Ensure that you speak with your doctor about recommended vaccinations to help you stay healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

I read that steroids were contraindicated in patients with COVID-19 disease. Should I still take my steroid inhaler and/or tablets prescribed for asthma?

Yes. The AAAAI advises continuing all your asthma medication, including steroid inhalers and tablets, as prescribed. You are more at risk by stopping your steroid medication as it helps to keep your asthma under control.

My asthma is being treated with biologics. I heard these can suppress your immune system making you more at risk of COVID-19. Should I stop taking them?

No. You should continue to take your biologic medication as prescribed. The biologics used to treat asthma are not the same as the biologics used to treat other illnesses. They do not have the same immunosuppressing effects.

I have a history of allergies as well as asthma. Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccination?

Medical professionals advise that the COVID-19 vaccine can be given to people with a history of allergies, including anaphylaxis. However, it is advised that you should consult your doctor if you:

  • Have an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate
  • Have had a severe reaction to the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Have a history of anaphylaxis to other vaccinations and injectable medicines
  • Have a diagnosis of mastocytosis
  • Are currently unwell with COVID-19 or another acute short-term illness

If you have had a previous severe or immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy, you will be monitored for at least 30 minutes post-vaccination. You will be monitored for 15 minutes post-vaccination if you do not have any of the prior concerns mentioned above.

How to Stay Safe

One of the best ways to stay safe with asthma during the pandemic is to follow public health guidance to lower the risk of catching COVID-19:

  • Continue asthma medication as prescribed.
  • Follow your asthma action plan.
  • Keep a 30-day supply of medicines at home.
  • Wash your hands regularly, avoid close contact with others, and socially distance where possible.
  • When washing your hands, wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol.
  • Wear a face mask in public settings and where social distancing is not possible.
  • Avoid crowded situations.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.
  • Practice self-monitoring.
  • Avoid contact with people who are unwell.
  • If someone in your home becomes unwell, follow medical guidance and isolation advice to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in your home.

A Word From Verywell

Having a condition like asthma may make you feel worried during the pandemic. However, medical research shows that it does not put you at a higher risk of COVID-19 or more severe symptoms.

Nevertheless, the stress of having an underlying condition can affect your well-being and be an asthma trigger. This is why it is vital to take care of yourself, keep your asthma under control, and take measures to stay healthy and reduce stress levels.

If you have concerns that your asthma is not controlled or are developing new respiratory symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed. As new research becomes available, we’ll update this article. For the latest on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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