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Lung Health

A Lung Expert’s COVID-19 Advice for People With Chronic Lung Disease

Albert A. Rizzo, M.D.

Chief Medical Officer, American Lung Association

“The problem is that if they get infected, depending on the status of their immune system, the status of their chronic lung condition, they are compromised and they are more risk of developing complications of the infection once they get it,” says Albert A. Rizzo, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Lung Association (ALA).

While most people with COVID-19 recover within a few weeks, the disease severely impacts lung function and can be life-threatening.

Patients may develop bronchitis or a pneumonia-like lung infection and some patients may develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that may require using oxygen and being placed on a ventilator. Respiratory failure could result in multi-organ failure and death. Even for patients who recover, the long-term damage to the lungs is not yet known.

Monitor your condition

Dr. Rizzo advises people with lung disease to use telemedicine to stay connected with their doctors. Monitor symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, and temperature regularly. Tell your doctor about any changes. 

He says many healthcare providers are assuming patients with symptoms have COVID-19 whether or not patients are tested. There’s no specific treatment for the coronavirus.  

“If you have the symptoms of COVID-19, you’re going to get some of these experimental drugs if you need it,” he says. “The test by itself doesn’t change how you’re going to be treated.”

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Precautions

The doctor also recommends people with lung disease maintain healthy habits, including proper sleep, diet, and exercise, as well as not smoking or vaping. They should continue their regular medicines. 

Precautions against COVID-19 are similar to those used during flu season, including handwashing, keeping hands away from the nose, mouth, and face, wearing a mask, social distancing, and staying home when you’re sick. Patients may choose to self-quarantine and isolate.

“I think we’re going to be more cognizant of how infections spread and how respiratory viruses spread, so we will be washing our hands more frequently and we’ll probably keep some degrees of social distancing,” says Dr. Rizzo.

Caregivers need to take extra precautions too. 

“That caregiver has to take into account that they are the potential link of the infection to that compromised individual,” he says. “They have to be very cautious about how exposed they are.”

He urges patients to be their own advocates and stay informed. The ALA has a COVID-19 page on their website

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