Coronavirus (COVID-19): What People With Asthma Need to Know

 

Update – March 27, 2020

We added the following updates to this blog post:

  • Updated symptom chart to reflect the latest information
  • A list of less common symptoms
  • New resource on health care open enrollment in certain states
  • How to get tested for COVID-19
  • Information on taking ibuprofen
  • Information on using a nebulizer at home and nasal sprays

Other resources available include:

Note: Because this is a constantly changing situation, any data in this blog post may not represent the most up-to-date information. We will update this blog when possible.


What Is the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

A coronavirus is a type of virus that often occurs in animals. Sometimes, it can spread to humans. This is rare.

In December 2019, a new coronavirus started spreading. Experts think people first caught the virus at a fish and live animal market. Now it is spreading from person to person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), common coronavirus symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough (usually dry)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired

Other less common symptoms can include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea or nausea

The CDC believes symptoms may appear two to 14 days after coming in contact with the virus. WHO has declared it a global pandemic (an outbreak of a new virus that spreads easily).

How Can I Tell the Difference Between the Coronavirus, the Flu, a Cold or Seasonal Allergies?

There are some symptoms that are similar between these respiratory illnesses. This chart can help you figure out if you may be feeling symptoms of allergies or a respiratory illness like COVID-19. If you have a fever and a cough, call your doctor. If you have seasonal allergies, there are things you can do to treat at home.

comparison of COVID-19, flu, common cold and allergy symptoms
Click to see larger image

All of these conditions may worsen asthma, so it’s important to keep taking your asthma control medicines.

Information is still changing. We will update this chart as new evidence comes out.

How Does the Coronavirus Spread?

The virus is spread through coughing (or sneezing). The virus will be in droplets that are coughed out into the air. These are heavy droplets and they quickly fall to the ground/surface below.

People who are within 1 to 2 meters (3 to 6 feet) of someone who is ill with the coronavirus may be within the zone that droplets can reach. If someone who is sick coughs on or near your face, you may get infected. This is why the CDC recommends that everyone should cough/sneeze into their elbows or a tissue and throw it away and wash their hands. People who are sick should also wear a mask to help stop the spread of illness.

The coronavirus may also live on surfaces that people have coughed on. If you touch a surface with the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you may get sick.

Who Is at Risk From the Coronavirus?

At this time, there is little data about how the new coronavirus affects people with asthma. One study of 140 cases showed no link to asthma.1 However, we know that asthma has worsened with other strains of coronavirus.

According to the WHO and the CDC, the highest risk groups include:

  • People who have traveled in from a country with a Level 3 Travel Notice
  • People caring for someone who is ill with the coronavirus
  • People over age 65
  • People who are pregnant
  • People with chronic medical conditions such as:
    • High blood pressure
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Renal failure
    • Liver disease
    • Immunocompromised people, such as those on cancer treatments
    • People with a body mass index over 40
    • Asthma (and other lung diseases)

People with asthma should take precautions when any type of respiratory illness is spreading in their community.

The CDC has released guidelines for people at high risk (including people with asthma):

  • Stock up on supplies (a 14 to 30 day supply)
  • Take steps to keep a distance from others (social distancing, about 6 feet)
  • Avoid people who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible
  • Avoid non-essential travel
  • Clean and disinfect your home and car regularly, especially items you touch often like doorknobs, light switches, cell phones, car door handles and steering wheels, etc.

If there is an outbreak in your local community, the CDC also recommends you stay home as much as possible. Try to find ways to have food and supplies delivered to your home.

In the U.S., flu activity is still high. If you get sick, it could be the flu unless you live in a coronavirus outbreak area. If you have symptoms of a cough or fever, call your doctor. There are antiviral treatments available for the flu.

How Can I Avoid Getting the Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Infections?

The steps you take to avoid the flu and other respiratory infections will also help protect you from the coronavirus:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds, always after coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have access to running water, use an alcohol-based hand cleanser that is at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Stay away from people who are sick or have been in contact with someone who is sick.
  • Don’t share makeup, food, dishes or eating utensils.
  • Take your daily asthma medicines to keep your asthma under control.

Spring pollen is increasing across the U.S. too. Seasonal allergies can affect people with allergic asthma. If pollen allergies trigger asthma symptoms for you, be sure to follow your allergy treatment plan to keep your allergies under control to prevent asthma episodes or attacks.

The most important way you can protect yourself right now is to keep your asthma under control. If your asthma is not under control, call your doctor right away.

If you do get sick, call your doctor and follow your Asthma Action Plan.

There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus. Get the flu shot if you haven't already – it's not too late to protect yourself from the flu. The flu season can last as late as May.

Wearing a mask to protect yourself from getting sick is not recommended by the WHO nor the CDC. Only people who are sick or people who are caregivers of people who are sick should wear masks.

If you plan to travel, check CDC travel precautions.

If I Think I Have the Coronavirus, What Should I Do?

If you start having symptoms of the coronavirus, call your doctor or your local department of health right away. Many states are adding testing options daily, and your doctor or department of health can tell you what to do.

If you have Medicare, you might be able to have a virtual visit with your doctor. The government has expanded the coverage of telehealth services during the coronavirus crisis.

Should I Avoid Taking Ibuprofen If I Get the Coronavirus?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is not enough evidence yet to know if ibuprofen and other NSAIDS (a type of medicine that reduces swelling) makes coronavirus symptoms worse.

If you are concerned about taking ibuprofen when you have the coronavirus, ask your doctor if you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce your fever.

What Do People With Asthma Need to Know About the New Coronavirus? ;Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Dr. Mitchell Grayson

 

References
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/32077115/

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Comments (92)

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PJ_55 posted:

My MD said I should get them every 2 weeks, but they were not wearing masks last week when I went.  They are allowing for waiting in the car, however.

i am trying to decide if I should keep my appointment next week, and was wondering what this organization position on the subject.

Hi @PJ_55 - thanks for your comment. 

As I shared with BbL, it is best to ask your doctor if skipping a dose is OK, or is there a chance your asthma may become uncontrolled. Right now, we all want to make sure our asthma is as well controlled as possible in case we do get sick. Asking if they have increased their protocols to protect staff and patients since your last visit may help you decide if you should go or skip this week. 

Please check out my response to BbL that links to a journal article on if/when you should keep your appointments. 

Keep us posted!

Lorene 

BbL posted:

My daughter (11 yrs old and homeschooled since last year due to illness) is scheduled to have her Xolair shots tomorrow. She takes two shots every two weeks. She has sever asthma and allergy. Today they called to make sure anyone in the family is not having any kind of symptoms related to coronavirus. I'm scared to take her. What happens IF she doesn't take her shots until after the Apex/curve is flatten? Help. Mom in need.

Hi @BbL - we totally understand the concern you are feeling. Below are few things to consider that I hope will help:

A recent journal article: COVID-19: Pandemic Contingency Planning for the Allergy and Immunology Clinic states that most asthma and allergy visits can be delayed or conducted by telehealth until the pandemic is over, except for patients with primary immunodeficiency, severe asthma, or are on venom immunotherapy. Feel free to share the article with your daughter's healthcare team. 

My recommendation is to talk to your daughter's doctor and ask what are the risks of skipping a dose and waiting 2+ weeks versus the chances of contracting COVID-19 in the office. Even missing 1 dose of Xolair may lead to poor asthma control, and it is really important to keep her asthma well controlled right now.

It's reassuring that they are asking about symptoms, but we do know that the virus is being spread by those who have yet to experience symptoms. 

It is very possible that the doctor's office has put protocols into place to ensure social distancing, staff using PPE (if available), extra disinfecting, etc. Ask your doctor's office how the visit will be handled to ensure you and your daughter are as safe as possible. This will help you make an informed decision. 

Let us know what you decide! 

Lorene 

my daughters office took careful measures the last time. They informed me they will be doing the same thing. Still, I'm concerned. I guess, I'm wondering more what would happen is she stops Xolair for a few months? I know she won't improve. Will she get worse? Can she start up were she left of? Or, pick up were she left of? Am I taking a bigger chance by exposing her? Can she have a successful pause from Xolair?

Hi PJ55 and BbL, welcome to the AAFA forums! 

PJ55, have you spoken with your dr about your concerns? 

BbL, did you express your concerns when the office called today?

I know locally some dr's offices are having you "check-in" from your car and you are taken right back to an exam room once you enter the office. You can always inquire about what their current procedures are. 

My daughter (11 yrs old and homeschooled since last year due to illness) is scheduled to have her Xolair shots tomorrow. She takes two shots every two weeks. She has sever asthma and allergy. Today they called to make sure anyone in the family is not having any kind of symptoms related to coronavirus. I'm scared to take her. What happens IF she doesn't take her shots until after the Apex/curve is flatten? Help. Mom in need.

Hi @SuzanneLV,

It is totally understandable that you are worried about your husband. First of all, a big thank you goes out to him and all he is doing to keep the country running during the shutdowns. 

According to OSHA regulations, employers are required to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) to all employees who are exposed to a hazard. The question is, will his employer consider the virus a hazard (they should). You can find the requirements here: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs...number/1910/1910.132 

I am a little surprised your doctor did suggest your husband stay at home. What about your city/state - any requirements to stay at home or shelter in place? 

Our forums are a helpful place to ask questions or share concerns and tips on how to manage asthma, allergies and COVID-19. It's a great place for support. Click on  https://community.aafa.org/ to find the topic or start your own! 

Lorene 

My husband is 59 and has asthma.  He works for a large trucking company (very popular prefer not to say which one) He is taking his own precautions, but I am very concerned that he is in the warehouse, building etc.  His doctor (hes new to us) is saying he doesn't have to stay away from work (he leaves at 6:30 am comes home at 9 ish PM) He is around this the majority of his day.  What are his rights with this company?  I am VERY concerned he is there so much he will catch this and then it will be worse for him!

Hi @Collin S Magnuson, asthma medicines reduce swelling inside the airways, relax muscles that tighten around the airway and reduce excess mucus that clogs the airways. They actually reduce or stop these changes in your airway from happening, but unfortunately do not strengthen them. 

Taking your medications as prescribed is key to helping your asthma stay under control even when you get an infection or virus. When people without lung disease get a respiratory infection, asthma treatments are often prescribed to open the airways. 

Lorene 

JillianW posted:

Im a nurse aid and i bought N95 masks in January.  I get that there is short supply, but for people who already have their own bbn personal ones to protect themselves for times like this... why are we being penalized for wanting to save ourselves?  I cant save others if im infecting myself.  It is unfair to work in hazardous and deadly situations and not be allowed to protect yourself on the job?  Why is everyine saying not to wear them?  I dont want this disease.  So ill die a hero?  Well i can still be a hero and live.

Hi @JillianW

I understand your concern and frustration. There seems to be mixed messages around who should wear a mask. As a nurse aid, you are a healthcare provider and should follow the CDC guidelines for healthcare professionals: https://www.cdc.gov/coronaviru...-nCoV/hcp/index.html

It is important to protect yourself and your family. Please take care of yourself! 

Lorene 

Im a nurse aid and i bought N95 masks in January.  I get that there is short supply, but for people who already have their own bbn personal ones to protect themselves for times like this... why are we being penalized for wanting to save ourselves?  I cant save others if im infecting myself.  It is unfair to work in hazardous and deadly situations and not be allowed to protect yourself on the job?  Why is everyine saying not to wear them?  I dont want this disease.  So ill die a hero?  Well i can still be a hero and live.

Jeni D - what we have heard about nebulizer use is that hospitals are switching from nebulizer to inhaler because if the risk of the virus becoming airborne when treating a patient sick with COVID-19. You can read the statement here - https://community.aafa.org/blo...t-people-with-asthma

It's important to keep your child's asthma as well controlled as you can. If you have concerns, please contact their doctor. The current recommendation in general is to not stop taking any of your asthma medicine - https://community.aafa.org/blo...coronavirus-covid-19

I had a question regarding albuterol nebulizer treatments re: coronavirus. My son and I have asthma and both have the machines to give ourself treatments as needed. My mom recently saw something on TV where a doctor at a hospital said they'd stopped giving those treatments in hospital because it somehow made it easier for the virus to attack the lungs. This is secondhand from her, as I was not able to see the same report. What can you tell me with regard to folks who use these nebulizer treatments at home. Both my son and I are having what we call "crappy lungs" during this pollen season so we use the treatments once or twice a day, when needed. Should we stop at this time?

Sarah Marie posted:

Why are we not advised to wear a mask to keep from getting the virus when people can spread the virus before they even know they have it? I understand that the mask can make you want to touch your face more, etc... But to me, it would make more sense to wear the mask to keep from getting it.

Hi Sarah, 

Surgical masks will not protect us from incoming germs or the virus. Those masks only keep things from coming out of your mouth, which is why it is recommended to wear one if you are sick to help protect others. 

The only mask that may help is a N95 mask/respirator that fits well. The mask does not keep your hands from carrying the virus, or protect your eyes, etc. These masks are often hot and can be very hard or uncomfortable to breathe through, especially if you have asthma. 

The biggest concern is not enough masks to go around for front line medical staff. 

Having said all that, wearing an N95 mask will not hurt you, so if you already have one it's totally fine to wear! 

Lara posted:
Lorene posted:
I Am Curious posted:

to echo @Lara, same for sore throat and chest tightness, particularly for those with both asthma and allergies. Postnasal drip causes a sore throat for me and I always have a tight chest around dust and ragweed. Those are the literal symptoms of COVID-19... I guess you can't please everyone and nothing is ever clear, ha. We have to do our best to pay close attention to our bodies, ask ourselves if what we are experiencing is unusual and act accordingly. 

Hi - you and @Lara bring up good points! Do you find that you are more in tune with your body due to allergies and asthma? I think I am, although I still often ignore signs and symptoms :-) A fever may be the 1 symptom that notifies us something else may be going on. 

Sometimes.  Sometimes it is exhausting feeling ill the time, so I try to disengage from what is happening to my body.  I very seldom get a fever, even with pneumonia.

 

I understand completely. It can be exhausting to live with chronic conditions and we all need to find a way cope, which is challenging. All we can do is follow the guidelines to distance ourselves from people and places, and pay attention to our bodies for anything that feels different. Please keep us updated on how your are feeling - sending health vibes! 

Lorene 

Thanks for the prompt reply. 

Unfortunately though, restocking and inventory is also being done outside, along the aisles. And with the store that am working with, they are 80% more concerned with customer satisfaction.  I have requested for a doctors appointment and I’ll check with him if he can give me a certification or something that i can give to our management.

Thanks much.

Lorene posted:
I Am Curious posted:

to echo @Lara, same for sore throat and chest tightness, particularly for those with both asthma and allergies. Postnasal drip causes a sore throat for me and I always have a tight chest around dust and ragweed. Those are the literal symptoms of COVID-19... I guess you can't please everyone and nothing is ever clear, ha. We have to do our best to pay close attention to our bodies, ask ourselves if what we are experiencing is unusual and act accordingly. 

Hi - you and @Lara bring up good points! Do you find that you are more in tune with your body due to allergies and asthma? I think I am, although I still often ignore signs and symptoms :-) A fever may be the 1 symptom that notifies us something else may be going on. 

Sometimes.  Sometimes it is exhausting feeling ill the time, so I try to disengage from what is happening to my body.  I very seldom get a fever, even with pneumonia.

 

I Am Curious posted:

to echo @Lara, same for sore throat and chest tightness, particularly for those with both asthma and allergies. Postnasal drip causes a sore throat for me and I always have a tight chest around dust and ragweed. Those are the literal symptoms of COVID-19... I guess you can't please everyone and nothing is ever clear, ha. We have to do our best to pay close attention to our bodies, ask ourselves if what we are experiencing is unusual and act accordingly. 

Hi - you and @Lara bring up good points! Do you find that you are more in tune with your body due to allergies and asthma? I think I am, although I still often ignore signs and symptoms :-) A fever may be the 1 symptom that notifies us something else may be going on. 

to echo @Lara, same for sore throat and chest tightness, particularly for those with both asthma and allergies. Postnasal drip causes a sore throat for me and I always have a tight chest around dust and ragweed. Those are the literal symptoms of COVID-19... I guess you can't please everyone and nothing is ever clear, ha. We have to do our best to pay close attention to our bodies, ask ourselves if what we are experiencing is unusual and act accordingly. 

It really bothers me that these tables always say there are no aches and pains for allergy sufferers.  There are for some of us!