Does Asthma Pose a Higher Risk for COVID-19 Infections?

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Subhra Adhikari, Neucrad Health Desk, July 12, 2020

A team of Rutgers researchers, US, found that asthma does not appear to increase the risk for a person contracting COVID-19 or influence its severity. Its a relief for people suffering from asthma during this COVID-19 pandemic.

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Possible causes of asthma. Image credit: 7mike5000

“Older age and conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and obesity are reported risk factors for the development and progression of COVID-19,” said Reynold A. Panettieri Jr., a pulmonary critical care physician and director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science and co-author of a paper published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “However, people with asthma — even those with diminished lung function who are being treated to manage asthmatic inflammation — seem to be no worse affected by SARS-CoV-2 than a non-asthmatic person. There is limited data as to why this is the case — if it is physiological or a result of the treatment to manage the inflammation.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, doctors have been warning that individuals with comorbid conditions like cardiac ailments, asthma, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases have a higher risk of developing the coronavirus infection. However, after months of this ongoing pandemic, medical data have established that asthma patients have the same probability of getting infected with SARS-Cov-2 virus as any others. They do not have any increased risk of suffering from COVID-19. This is good news for asthma patients who were reluctant to venture out of the house even for essential work. Individuals already experience breathing difficulties due to inflamed and narrow airways in asthma. In this situation, excess fear of transmitting SARS-Cov-2 infection created panic among them.

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What happens to patients when they develop asthma?

When a person suffers from asthma, their airways become swollen and constricted due to excess secretion of mucilage. It is a long-term medical condition and cannot be cured completely. Patients complain of breathing difficulties, tightness in the chest, wheezing sound during exhalation, and cough. Common triggers for asthma include allergens like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander, sinusitis, air pollution, tobacco smoke, rigorous exercise, strong perfume, weather change, and stress. Asthma attacks can be mild in some cases, while in others, it can be critical and demand immediate hospitalisation.

What are the treatments of asthma?

As already mentioned, it is not possible to completely cure asthma. However, medical science has made substantial improvement in the last few decades, and now doctors can successfully keep asthma symptoms under control through oral medication and inhalers. Detailed below are the treatment plans for asthma patients.

Corticosteroid Inhalers

Corticosteroid inhalers are a part long-term treatment approach for asthma symptoms. Patients need to take these puff regularly to prevent the occurrence of asthma attacks. These inhalers reduce mucus formation within the lungs and reduce swellings of airways. Beclomethesone, Budesonide, and Fluticasone are standard components of corticosteroid inhalers. Researchers suggest there are minimal side effects with long-term use of these medications.

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers are a form of oral medications for asthma. They contain montelukast, zafirlukast, and zileuton, and can relieve asthma symptoms within 24 hours. However, long term use of these drugs can cause aggression, hallucinations, and suicidal tendencies.

Quick-Relief Asthma Medications

If patients suffer from an asthma attack, then doctors prescribe quick-relief medications to bring the situation under control. Short-acting beta-agonists can offer immediate relief to asthma symptoms. They consist of bronchodilators like albuterol and evalbuterol, which can act within minutes on the lungs. Patients take these medications through hand-held inhalers or nebulisers.

How are doctors managing asthma symptoms among COVID-19 patients?

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advocated that doctors should not administer corticosteroids to manage asthma symptoms among COVID-19 patients. There was a belief that corticosteroids can increase the need for ventilation support among sufferers. Some doctors also suggested that it may also increase the duration of recovery. However, Mitchell H. Grayson, director of allergy and immunology, Ohio State University, felt that these safety parameters is not for patients who are already under corticosteroids therapy. Withdrawal of this medication can lead to asthma exacerbation, as in this season, there is an abundance of pollens (an asthma trigger) in the atmosphere.

How can patients prevent asthma attacks and COVID-19 infection?

Asthma patients need to follow the same set of guidelines as other candidates for preventing  COVID-19 infection. They should cover their face with a mask, wash hands regularly with soaps or alcohol-based sanitisers, and practise social distancing. For the prevention of asthma attack, patients should avoid triggers like pollution, strong perfumes, pollens, stress, and rigorous physical activities. Consult with your physicians if you have issues with asthma.

NB: Neucrad Health brings scientific biomedical information. It is not a medical consultation/prescription for patients. Consult with your physicians if needed.

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