COVID-19 and Asthma: What You Need to Know
August 01, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is scary for all people, but for people with asthma, many fear that they will have a worse outcome or be more likely to get COVID-19.
Yet it is important for patients to understand what the current data on asthma and COVID-19 is saying, says Nancy Wasserbauer, DO, an allergy and immunology specialist with UH Westshore Primary Care in Rocky River, UH Broadview Heights Health Center and UH North Ridgeville Health Center.
“At this time, there is no evidence of increased infection rates in those with asthma,” Dr. Wasserbauer says.
What the Research Says
There has been one report — a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from April 8 — suggesting that asthma may increase the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 in 18-to-49-year-old adults. However, the study is based on a small number of patients.
On the opposite side are data from several cities and countries with high COVID-19 infections where asthma was under-represented in those who died from COVID-19.
While these numbers may change as more research emerges, there remain no data on non-hospitalized patients, so it is unknown if asthma is a risk factor for getting the virus or having more severe disease, Dr. Wasserbauer says.
“In the current pandemic, the best thing a person with asthma can do is to get and keep their asthma under control," she says. "Stopping a controller medication will put the person at risk for developing an asthma exacerbation, and treatment of an exacerbation will likely require going to the emergency department or urgent care, where the individual has a much higher risk of being exposed to someone with COVID-19."
Dr. Wasserbauer says some misconceptions regarding asthma and COVID-19 include:
- Early reports of systemic corticosteroids being associated with death from COVID-19 are being extrapolated to include ALL steroids as being dangerous. However, inhaled corticosteroids are safe and necessary for patients with asthma to continue to use in order to prevent exacerbation.
- Systemic corticosteroids can and should be used to treat an asthma exacerbation, even if it is caused by COVID-19.
- Online discussion of nebulizers is causing confusion for some, as this is misconstrued to indicate that someone can catch COVID-19 from using a nebulizer. If patients require treatment with nebulized medications, such as albuterol or atrovent due to asthma, they should start treatment early and repeat until better. COVID-19 does not "live" inside nebulizers. However, if a person with asthma who is receiving nebulized treatment has COVID-19, they could spread to others in close proximity due to the respiratory droplets created through the nebulizer.
“The bottom line for people with asthma during this pandemic is to keep doing what you have been doing all along — continue taking your controller medication and inform your healthcare provider of any symptoms that you may develop," Dr. Wasserbauer says. "And of course, remember to practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands."
The team of pulmonary experts at University Hospitals combines years of experience, specialized training and innovative asthma treatments to help manage asthma, especially if it’s moderate to severe. Learn more about asthma services at University Hospitals.