People with asthma may wonder if they are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and what that means. An expert breaks down the facts.
During an asthma flair-up, airways become more swollen and the muscles around them can tighten, triggering wheezing, cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath. These symptoms are similar to commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19, so it is understandable that people with asthma are wondering if they are at higher risk for the virus, or if they will have serious complications if they do become infected.
The good news is that, though data is still limited, the information scientists have gathered so far looks positive.
“Currently, there is no evidence of increased infection rates in those with asthma,” explained Mitchell H. Grayson, MD, FAAAAI, Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. And although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that patients with moderate to severe asthma could be at greater risk for more severe disease, there are no published data to support this at present.
Though this is encouraging, nothing has been proven definitively yet, and everyone should still exercise caution. “Of course, we’re dealing with an evolving pandemic and new information could change the situation,” reminded Dr. Grayson.
But this is not the only source of anxiety for people with asthma. There have also been reports that steroids, common for treating asthma, should not be used in cases of COVID-19. So what should someone do if their controller medication is an inhaled or oral steroid?
“The short answer is continue taking your controller medications to keep your asthma under control,” said Dr. Grayson. Some data suggests that steroids might increase the shedding of SARS-CoV-2, but these findings came from steroids used specifically to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The effect of steroids used to treat other diseases like asthma on COVID-19 was not studied. The CDC recommends not stopping steroids with COVID-19, if the steroids are being taken for another condition such as asthma.
“Stopping a controller medication will put you at risk for an asthma exacerbation, and treating the exacerbation will likely require going to the emergency department, where there is a much higher risk of being exposed to someone with COVID-19,” emphasized Dr. Grayson.
While there are seasonal versions of coronaviruses that have been shown to cause asthma exacerbations, this does not seem to be true with SARS-CoV-2. The bottom line for anyone with asthma is continue taking your controller medication, inform your healthcare provider of any symptoms you may develop, practice social distancing, and wash your hands.