Skip to main content

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

 

Update – Nov. 15, 2021

We updated this blog post to include updated information and guidance from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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.


In December 2019, a new coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 started spreading and triggered a pandemic (worldwide outbreak). This coronavirus causes an illness known as COVID-19.

The coronavirus spreads through close contact from person to person. A person with the virus can spread it to others by talking, coughing, sneezing, singing, or breathing. The virus will be in large or small droplets that are exhaled from the mouth or nose out into the air.

If you are within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who is ill with COVID-19, you may be at greatest risk for becoming infected. But it may be possible to catch the virus even if you are more than 6 feet away from an infected person because very small droplets can spread in the air. If someone who is sick coughs on or near your face, you may get infected. People may be infected with the coronavirus and not show any symptoms. They may spread the virus without knowing it. The virus may also spread through direct contact with a person who has COVID-19.

What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you or someone you know has these emergency warning signs, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest that doesn’t go away
  • Newly confused
  • Can’t wake up or stay awake
  • Cyanosis which is tissue color changes on mucus membranes (like tongue, lips, and around the eyes) and fingertips or nail beds – the color appears grayish or whitish on darker skin tones and bluish on lighter skin tones

According to the CDC, this list may not include all symptoms. If you have any symptoms that are severe or concerning, call your doctor.

The CDC warns that symptoms may appear two to 14 days after coming in contact with the virus.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between Asthma, COVID-19, the Flu, a Cold, or Seasonal Allergies?

Some symptoms are similar between these respiratory illnesses. Respiratory illnesses may worsen asthma, so it’s important to keep taking your asthma medicines. If you have a fever and a cough, call your doctor. If you have seasonal allergies, there are things you can do to treat them at home. If your allergy symptoms are hard to control, make an appointment with an allergist.

This chart can help you figure out if you may be feeling symptoms of asthma, allergies, or a respiratory illness like COVID-19, the flu, or a cold:



Are People With Asthma at Risk of Severe Illness From COVID-19?

Many studies show that having asthma does not put you at a greater risk of getting COVID-19 or having severe COVID-19.1,2,3 A study published in “The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice” (JACI: In Practice) found that people with well-controlled asthma have less severe COVID-19 outcomes than people with uncontrolled asthma.4

The CDC continues to list moderate-to-severe asthma as a chronic lung disease that can make you more likely to have severe illness from COVID-19.

No matter what, it is important to keep your asthma well-controlled. If your asthma is not under control, you are at a greater risk in general of having an asthma episode or attack, going to the emergency room, staying in the hospital, or even death. If you feel like your asthma is not well-controlled, talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Even though people with asthma are not at the highest risk for COVID-19, it is still important to keep your asthma under control. Common medicines you may take for asthma and allergies do not increase your risk of getting COVID-19. They will help you keep your asthma under control. You are at greater risk for having an asthma attack if you stop taking your medicines. Take your medicines at the first sign of symptoms as listed on your Asthma Action Plan. Continue to take these medicines as prescribed:

  • Quick-relief medicine (such as albuterol)
  • Inhaled corticosteroids (controller medicines)
  • Oral corticosteroids (such as prednisone)
  • Biologics
  • Antihistamines (allergy medicine)
  • Proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux
  • Nasal allergy sprays
  • Allergy shots

If you have any questions about asthma medicines and COVID-19, talk with your doctor.

If you need to take quick-relief medicine (such as albuterol) for an asthma episode, use an inhaler (with a spacer if directed by your doctor) if possible. Using a nebulizer can increase the risk of sending virus particles in the air if you are sick. But if you have a nebulizer and solution, it is OK to use it to treat an asthma episode. When using a nebulizer, limit the number of people in the room or use it in a room by yourself.

How Can I Avoid Getting COVID-19 (And Other Respiratory Infections)?

The following steps will help you avoid COVID-19, the flu, and other respiratory infections:

1. Get your vaccines.

Vaccines can help protect you, your loved ones, older adults near you, teachers, and essential workers from getting a respiratory infection. They can also cut down your symptom severity if you do get sick. Vaccines reduce the burden on our health care system by reducing the number of people who get COVID-19 or the flu.

Everyone who is 5 years and older can get the COVID-19 vaccines for free with no out-of-pocket costs in the United States. There are currently three vaccines available: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J).

Visit vaccines.gov to find out where you can get the COVID-19 vaccine near you. Most people can get the COVID-19 vaccine with no issues. Allergic and adverse reactions are rare.

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older with rare exceptions.


2. Wear a mask.

Face masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. They can benefit people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Some people may have COVID-19 and not show symptoms for a few days, while some may not have any symptoms at all. And some vaccinated people have gotten breakthrough infections, which have usually been mild.

Wear a mask that fits snugly on your face, and covers your nose, mouth, and beard completely. Wear a mask when you leave your home, if you are caring for someone at home who is sick, and if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. People with asthma should be able to wear face masks.

Face masks offer other benefits as well. They can reduce your exposure to pollen, air pollution, and other respiratory infections like the flu.


3. Keep a physical distance from people outside your household.

In general, the more closely you interact with other people and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of coronavirus or flu spread. Try to stay home when possible when these illnesses are spreading in your community. Avoid large crowds of people, especially in indoor locations. When in public, keep at least 6 feet apart. Stay away from people who are sick or have been in contact with someone who is sick. Even when you’re at home with family, don’t share makeup, food, dishes, or eating utensils.

AAFA recommends that you postpone any unnecessary travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. See the CDC’s guidelines on how to protect yourself at specific locations and in certain situations, such as shops, public places, gatherings, and more.

4. Wash your hands properly and often.

Use soap and warm water to wash your hands for 20 to 30 seconds. Always wash your hands before and after eating and after coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have access to running water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or 70% isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol). Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Not all hand sanitizers are effective at killing germs. To sanitize your hands, look for a hand sanitizer that contains:

  • At least 60% ethyl alcohol (ethanol), or
  • At least 70% isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol)


5. Make sure your indoor spaces are well-ventilated and have good indoor air quality.

If you are staying indoors more because of COVID-19, be mindful of the quality of your indoor air. The air inside our homes can often be more polluted than the air outside. Unhealthy indoor air can be full of asthma triggers and allergens that can cause symptoms and make your asthma harder to control. Take steps to improve and maintain healthy indoor air quality.

Air circulation is important too. Keep your indoor spaces well-ventilated by opening windows or doors, using fans, running air cleaners, or using proper air filters in your HVAC system.

Current evidence shows the risk of the coronavirus spreading is much lower outdoors than indoors. Good ventilation in your indoor environment may help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It may also affect the risk of transmission (how fast it spreads).

On days when pollen is low and air quality is good, open your windows to let in fresh air. Run your HVAC system as much as possible (especially when windows are closed). Use high efficiency air filters in your HVAC system and replace them at least every three months.


6. Take care of your health.

Take your asthma control medicines as directed to keep your airways open. Eat well and get enough sleep.

Pollen (such as grass or ragweed pollen) may impact people 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.

If you stopped seeing your allergist or getting allergy shots (immunotherapy) during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider making an appointment soon. Keeping up with your regular allergist visits is an important part of keeping your asthma controlled.

The most important thing you can do is to keep your asthma under control. If your asthma is not under control, call your doctor right away.

In general, tracking your symptoms and following your Asthma Action Plan are key to managing your asthma. Some people use peak flow meters to monitor their airways. Monitoring your blood oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter (or “pulse ox”) is not a recommended part of home management of asthma. Many pulse oximeters you can buy for home use are not as accurate as medical grade devices.

It is important to remember that the symptoms you feel should always come before pulse ox and peak flow numbers. But if your peak flow numbers are down and you don’t have symptoms, follow your Asthma Action Plan and contact your doctor.

There are no data demonstrating that monitoring your pulse ox through an oximeter or smartphone app will help manage your asthma. As always, talk with your doctor about the best ways to monitor your symptoms and asthma control.6

If I Think I Have COVID-19, What Should I Do?

If you start having symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor or your local health department within 24 hours. Many states and local pharmacies have various testing options (including at-home or drive-thru tests), and your doctor or department of health can tell you what to do. In the meantime, stay home and isolate from family members so you don’t spread the coronavirus to other people.

Many doctors have been offering telehealth (video or virtual appointments). If that is an option, ask your insurance company if telehealth is covered under your plan. And if you have Medicare, you might be able to have a virtual visit with your doctor. The government expanded the coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 crisis.


Medical Review, Mitchell Grayson, MD, October 2021.

References
1. Chhiba, K.D., Patel, G.B., Vu, T.H.T, Chen, M.M., Guo, A., Kudlaty, E., Mai, Q., Yeh, C., Muhammad, L.N., Harris, K.E., Bochner, B.S., Grammar, L.C., Greenberger, P.A., Kalhan, R., Kuang, F.L., Saltoun, C.A., Schleimer, R.P., Stevens, W.W., & Peters, A.T. (2020). Prevalence and characterization of asthma in hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2020.06.010.
2. Butler, M. W., O’Reilly, A., Dunican, E. M., Mallon, P., Feeney, E. R., Keane, M. P., & McCarthy, C. (2020). Prevalence of comorbid asthma in COVID-19 patients. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2020.04.0613. Lieberman-Cribbin, W., Rapp, J., Alpert, N., Tuminello, S., & Taioli, E. (2020). The Impact of Asthma on Mortality in Patients With COVID-19. Chest. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chest.2020.0air pol.5754. Huang, B. Z., Chen, Z., Sidell, M. A., Eckel, S. P., Martinez, M. P., Lurmann, F., Thomas, D. C., Gilliland, F. D., & Xiang, A. H. (2021). Asthma disease Status, COPD, and COVID-19 severity in a large Multiethnic POPULATION. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaip.2021.07.0305. Kampf, G., Todt, D., Pfaender, S., & Steinmann, E. (2020). Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection, 104(3), 246–251. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2020.01.022
6. Heneghan, C. (2018, January 30). Self-management of asthma – is there an app or pulse oximeter for that? Retrieved from https://blogs.bmj.com/bmjebmsp...-app-pulse-oximeter/

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is the largest and oldest nonprofit patient organization dedicated to asthma and allergies. Our online community includes public blogs. To post a comment, you will need to register or sign in.

Add Comment

Comments (131)

Newest · Oldest · Popular
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?

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 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 

Lorene Alba, AE-C

Director of Education 

AAFA 

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 

Lorene Alba, AE-C

Director of Education 

AAFA 

Albuterol inhalers, nebulizers and other asthma treatments may significantly strengthen the lungs and help symptoms of Coronavirus and fight off the infection faster. Even people without asthma could use asthma treatments to fight corona virus.

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 

Lorene Alba, AE-C

Director of Education 

AAFA 

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.

Jw

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! 

Lorene Alba, AE-C

Director of Education 

AAFA 

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 

Lorene Alba, AE-C

Director of Education 

AAFA 

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.

hello , i have excerice enducted asthma and i never get asthma atacks beside when i run or do a lot of sports , did not have any atacks since like 7 months im i still going to die if contact covid 19 ? or is it only for people that have uncontrolled asthma  , last time i did the flow test i scored 250 

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.

Hi Ruby and welcome. I understand your concern about being a high-risk category and being exposed to a lot of different people working in retail. What about talking to your supervisor about doing more things away from customers? Restocking or inventory maybe?

In a couple of years, I’ll turn 60...work in retail too. Though i feel strong and somewhat healthy for a person with asthma, i have to admit that i am worried and scared coz of covid. Am not sure that if i ask my company for a leave of absence if they’d accept, what should i do?

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. 

Lorene Alba, AE-C

Director of Education 

AAFA