With the rapidly changing news and advice surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a challenging time for asthma sufferers, who may be worried about the complications of the virus in relation to their condition. Patients currently receiving treatment for asthma make up nearly 8% of the UK population, so this is not an insignificant number of people to be vulnerable to the effects of the virus.
Patients with any pre-existing health condition should take extra precautions to prevent infection with COVID-19; however, those with conditions that affect the airways are advised to be especially careful. This is because COVID-19 is a coronavirus, which is a group of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections, alongside gastrointestinal and neurological issues. Those with respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension have been placed on the NHS’ Shielded Patient List for this reason, and should follow Government guidance on COVID-19 as much as possible.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the risks those with asthma face during the COVID-19 pandemic, what to do if you have asthma and contract the virus, and the implications of long COVID.
Are people with asthma at higher risk of contracting COVID-19?
Although there is not an overwhelming amount of evidence that those with asthma are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 specifically, we know that asthmatic patients are generally more susceptible to infections and suffer from more severe complications than those without asthma. They may also suffer from complications for a longer period of time; therefore, the recovery process is likely to be longer.
However, there is some variation in the severity of illness when it comes to contracting COVID-19 with pre-existing asthma. Those with well-controlled asthma, for example someone with mild or no symptoms and who is very active, are less likely to suffer from complications and more likely to recover quickly. According to a study published this year analysing the effect of asthma and asthma medication on the prognosis of patients with COVID-19, ‘patients with step 5 asthma [severe, requiring daily steroid use] showed significant prolonged duration of admission compared to those with step 1 asthma [mild, requiring an inhaler as a short-term reliever].’
Respiratory Physician, Dr Bernadette Coker says, ‘I have seen asthmatic patients who have received positive COVID-19 antibody test results and are shocked by this, as they have not experienced any symptoms associated with the virus. This proves that it is important for a patient to seek specialist help with asthma to control their condition, in order to lower their risk of severe infection-related complications’.
What should you do if you have asthma and you contract COVID-19?
Patients with diagnosed asthma should be on high alert during the pandemic when it comes to any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms, especially breathlessness, which is a common symptom of COVID-19. If you are experiencing any symptoms that are uncommon for you, consult a specialist right away. If you cannot do this, it is advisable that you visit your nearest accident and emergency unit.
If you are unsure about your symptoms, we recommend purchasing a pulse oximeter, which provides a precise measurement of oxygen levels in the blood. If the measurement drops below 92, it is essential that you visit A&E straight away as this indicates potential hypoxemia (deficiency in oxygen reaching tissues in the body). This can be caused by inflammation due to COVID-19 infection, exacerbated asthma caused by the virus, a blood clot (which can also be caused by COVID-19) or an asthma attack.
If an asthmatic patient contracts long COVID, will the rehabilitation process be longer?
Not necessarily. At The Coker Chest Clinic, we have seen asthmatic patients who have experienced very mild long COVID symptoms with a short recovery period. Furthermore, there are patients with no history of asthma who have encountered more severe long COVID-related complications and a longer rehabilitation period. From this we can surmise that the long-term effects of this virus affect each patient differently.
Treatment for asthma and COVID-19
At The Coker Chest Clinic, we specialise in respiratory problems, including asthma and long COVID. Whether you are suffering from one or the other, or both conditions at once, you should not hesitate to seek treatment and get your health back up to par.