Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes inflammation in the airways. This inflammation causes narrowing of the airways, which leads to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and a cough.
Asthma is classified as mild, moderate, or severe. On average, patients with mild asthma experience symptoms two days per week. Patients with moderate asthma experience symptoms daily, and at least one night per week. These symptoms often take several days to resolve. Patients with severe asthma experience symptoms several times per day, and several nights a week.
Since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that primarily affects the respiratory tract, it is especially concerning for asthmatic patients who already experience respiratory symptoms from their condition.
While there isn’t any evidence that people with asthma are more likely to contract the COVID-19 virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning that patients with moderate-to-severe asthma who contract COVID-19 are at a higher risk for serious complications, including asthma attacks, pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress.
In light of that information, here are ten tips every asthma patient should follow during the COVID-19 outbreak.
1. Take every precaution to prevent an infection.
The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never been more true than now. Taking every precaution possible to prevent contracting COVID-19 is the most effective way for asthma patients to stay healthy. By wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, not touching your face, frequently disinfecting hard surfaces, and practicing social distancing, you’ll minimize your chance of suffering from the coronavirus and the complications it can cause.
2. Get as much fresh air as possible.
Closed spaces pose two risks for asthmatic patients. First, from what we know about COVID-19 so far, it seems that it’s more likely to spread when people are in closed spaces because droplets take longer to dissipate when there is limited space and a lack of natural ventilation.
Second, closed spaces pose a risk to asthma patients who are frequently using chemical sprays to disinfect indoor spaces, since being in close contact with these sprays can irritate the airways and trigger an asthma attack.
For these reasons, it’s helpful to get as much fresh air as possible (while following social distancing guidelines, of course!), and keep doors and windows open as much as possible, especially while using disinfectant sprays and other cleaning products.
3. Follow guidelines for vulnerable populations.
After months of stay-at-home orders, all 50 states are now in the process of reopening. As the gradual phases of reopening unfold, it should be noted that most reopening guidelines apply to people who are not at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications due to age or underlying medical conditions.
However, since patients with moderate-to-severe asthma are at a higher risk of serious complications, if they contract the coronavirus, it’s imperative for these patients to follow the more conservative recommendations issued for vulnerable populations.
4. Avoid unnecessary travel.
While it’s tempting to plan a trip or book vacation travel after months of being confined at home, it’s recommended that patients with underlying medical conditions avoid unnecessary travel for now. Airplanes, cruise ships, hotels, and motels put you in closer proximity to other people, which increases your risk of contracting COVID-19. Also, when you travel, it’s often harder to get medical care from your primary care provider, and it can be more complicated to get your prescriptions refilled if you run out.
5. Stock up on your medications.
Many pharmacies have shortened their hours during the pandemic or even closed down for days at a time, making it harder for patients to fill prescriptions for the medications they need. The CDC recommends working with your pharmacist and health care provider to keep an emergency supply of all of your asthma medications on hand so you don’t run the risk of running out.
6. Follow your asthma treatment plan.
Every asthma patient should work with their healthcare provider to create an asthma treatment plan. This plan tells you what medication(s) to take and when, depending on the frequency and severity of your symptoms, and when to seek medical attention if the symptoms aren’t resolving. Following this treatment plan is essential, since addressing symptoms early can prevent asthma attacks and other significant complications.
7. Don’t change your asthma plan without consulting your healthcare provider.
There has been a lot of misinformation circulating on the internet about certain medications like steroid inhalers increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19, which has led to many patients discontinuing or altering the medications on their asthma treatment plan. If you’re considering a change to your asthma treatment plan, make sure you consult your healthcare provider before you make any changes.
8. Avoid your asthma triggers.
In many cases, asthma symptoms are induced by exposure to certain triggers, including smoke, pet dander, dust, mold, and pollen. It’s important to stay healthy by recognizing and avoiding your asthma triggers as much as possible.
9. Learn how to decrease your stress and anxiety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in stress, fear, and anxiety around the world. Since strong emotions can trigger an asthma attack, it’s helpful for patients with asthma to be aware of their emotional state, and find ways to cope with strong emotions. Meditation, mindful breathing, exercise, nutritious food, connection with family and friends, and a healthy sleep pattern are all helpful ways to calm your body and mind in the midst of a stressful situation.
Also, if you’re experiencing strong emotions that don’t respond to your efforts, don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional to find other ways to improve your mental health.
10. Have a low threshold for seeking medical attention.
If you’re experiencing asthma symptoms that aren’t responding to your asthma treatment plan, including shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, dizziness, or rapid breathing, seek medical attention as soon as possible, since early intervention can often prevent serious or even life-threatening complications.
It’s also important to seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing symptoms that could indicate a COVID-19 infection, including a fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant