COVID-19 and lung disease: What you need to know

We’re still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects different people. Based on current information, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that people with lung disease and other chronic conditions may be at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Bridgett Ronan, MD, a pulmonologist who is an independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff, answers some of the most common questions she’s hearing, based on the latest information that is available.

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Q. Does my asthma/ COPD increase my risk of getting COVID-19?

A: We don’t have evidence that underlying lung disease increases your chances of contracting the disease.

Q. How much is my risk of severe COVID-19 disease if I get it?

A: That is hard to predict. The majority of patients who get COVID-19 will have little to no symptoms. Compared to people who don’t have a chronic disease, older people and those with the following conditions may be at increased risk of severe disease. However, that does not mean that if you get it, you will have severe disease.

  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index of 40 or higher)
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease

Q. What can I do to reduce my risk of getting COVID-19?

A: Follow the CDC’s recommendations for preventing infection, including keeping yourself physically distant from others, washing your hands after touching surfaces and sanitizing frequently. Don’t touch your face. If you can work from home, you should.

Q. Should I be wearing a mask in public?

A: The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). If you can’t put on a cloth face covering (because of trouble breathing for example), cover your coughs and sneezes in some other way.

Q. I heard that steroids are not good for COVID-19. Should I stop taking my steroid inhaler?

A: No. While using systemic steroids, like prednisone, is associated with a prolonged time of shedding the virus if you have it, there isn’t evidence that using inhaled steroids increases your chances of getting COVID-19 or severe disease from it. In addition, if you have asthma it’s important to take your inhaled steroid to prevent your asthma from getting out of control.

If you have any questions about your medications, call your healthcare provider.

Q. What do I do if I feel more short of breath?

A: There are other reasons why you might have shortness of breath. There are other illnesses besides COVID-19 and allergy season is upon us, which can worsen asthma control. Talk with your healthcare provider. Follow your asthma or COPD action plan.

Q. What do I do if I get a fever and cough?

A: Contact the HonorHealth nurse line if you have symptoms of coronavirus at 480-587-6200 or check your symptoms. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

Q. I tested positive or COVID. I wasn’t sick enough to get admitted. What do I do now?

A: Read the latest guidelines on home isolation here

Q. Should I have hydroxychloroquine on hand in case I feel sick?

A: No. The FDA approved hydroxychloroquine on an emergency basis for use in COVID-19 disease, for patients who are hospitalized. The data on its effectiveness is still very limited, and there are potential serious side effects.

Q. I have asthma and I work in healthcare. Do I need to stay home?

A: If your job is something that can be transitioned to less direct patient care, talk to your supervisor and request that change. If not, use personal protective equipment when providing direct patient care.

Q. Are people who smoke or vape at higher risk for COVID-19 or having more severe symptoms?

A. Yes. It is speculated that smoking is a risk factor for getting COVID-19, given frequent movement of the hands (which can be contaminated) to the face. Smoking may increase the risk of transmission to others because it causes coughing, which does spread the virus through droplets in the air. Of patients in China who had COVID-19, smokers were more likely than non-smokers to have severe disease. If you are a current smoker and you'd like to quit, please contact your provider for assistance, or go to ashline.org.

Note: This article was last reviewed on April 20, 2020. We will continue to update it as new information becomes available.

For the most current information

Our top priority is the health and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. HonorHealth is working closely with public health officials to stay up-to-date with the most current information and guidelines related to the Coronavirus. Visit our dedicated Coronavirus page for the latest information.

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