As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, doctors are advising asthma patients to take greater care and avoid falling sick.
The SARS-COV 2 virus primarily affects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), which means that in people with respiratory disorders it could trigger an asthma attack that could possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.
The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States’ health protection agency, has especially cautioned people with moderate to acute asthmatic symptoms against the risk.
However, there are several ways that asthma patients can keep themselves safe by following regular medications, and taking a few extra precautions.
Asthma Patients: High-Risk Group
People with respiratory disorders are in the high-risk category against the Coronavirus, along with elderly or those with cardiac issues and diabetes.
Dr Nagarjuna Maturu, Consultant Pulmonologist at Yashoda Hospital in Hyderabad says, ”The evidence does not show that those with asthma are more susceptible to Coronavirus infection, But if they do get it, they are more likely to develop complications like severe breathlessness, respiratory failure etc. In people with none of these co-morbidities, the mortality rate is less than 1%, but it may go up to 5% for the high-risk group.’
Higher Risk Group
Even among the asthma patients, the risk is the highest for those with uncontrolled asthma.
Dr Maturu says, “People who have uncontrolled, poorly controlled or severe asthma are more at risk compared to those with controlled asthma. They need to be doubly cautious.”
In controlled asthma, the patient is able to carry out daily activities without restrictions, does not have frequent asthma attacks and doesn’t require relievers often. Whereas a person with uncontrolled or poorly controlled asthma has symptoms of cough and breathlessness despite using medicines, gets frequent asthma attacks and requires more reliever puffs.
How to Stay Safe
Dr Maturu calls social distancing the single most important precaution, especially for people with respiratory disorders. “Do not step out of the house unless absolutely necessary. If anyone in the house or nearby has any symptoms of cough and cold, stay far away.”
Other precautions against COVID-19 for them include a high degree of hand hygiene.
Continue Asthma Medication
The Centre for Disease Control says it is important to keep asthma under control and keep medications lasting for a few extra weeks handy, in case the lockdown is extended.
Dr Maturu insists that under no circumstances should anyone with asthma discontinue their medications at present.
He says, “There are misconceptions that a person using inhaled steroids is at an increased risk of Coronavirus infection. On the contrary, if a person suddenly stops using inhalers, asthma could become uncontrolled and increase the risk.”
Stay Away from Anxiety
Studies indicate that anxiety and stress are likely to trigger asthma attacks.
So how should asthma patients manage their anxiety in these stressful times?
Dr Maturu says, “COVID-19 is not a disease which you should be scared of. It is a disease you should be careful about. If you are taking all necessary precautions, it is highly unlikely that you will get infected, and even if you do and you have controlled asthma, there is 99% chance that you will come out of it fully recovered.”
“Staying away from fake news on WhatsApp and other social media platforms is also important to keep anxiety away,” he advises.
Yoga to Relieve Stress
Yoga is known to do wonders for asthma patients, and can easily be done at home even in times of lockdown.
“30 minutes of deep breathing exercise and meditation every day has been shown to relieve stress and improve asthma conditions in many people,” says Dr Maturu.
Apart from inhalers and other medication, experts also recommend bronchial thermoplasty, a fairly new bronchoscopic procedure for patients with severe, uncontrolled asthma.
Dr Maturu says while it can’t be performed on a person with severe asthma showing symptoms of Coronavirus, it is advised for those with uncontrolled asthma once the COVID-19 threat is over.