How can asthmatic patients stay protected during COVID times?

Dr Anshu Punjabi

The COVID19 pandemic has taken us by the storm. The most vulnerable people being those with morbidities and the elderly, but the virus can be particularly troubling for those with Asthma. Symptoms of COVID19 may be more severe and may lead to poor outcomes if people with Asthma get infected. It is important to know that currently there is no evidence of increased infection rates in those with Asthma. However, people with Asthma need to be especially diligent in protecting themselves from the virus through measures such as handwashing, double masking, and staying away from those who are sick.

Caring for Asthmatics during the pandemic: Firstly, people with Asthma need to continue taking their prescribed medications to prevent exacerbations of their Asthma. Secondly, it is vital for patients with Asthma to reduce airway inflammation and minimize the risk of exacerbations as much as possible. Thirdly, recognize different Asthma triggers and stay alert when the symptoms are getting worse. This can help patients identify when to call the doctor if they’re getting sick. Asthmatics need to follow their physician-prescribed ‘Asthma action plan’ or ask for a plan from their doctor if they don’t have one.

Here are some important questions that you may have in mind?

What to do to stay protected?

¾   Wear a mask: With the second wave raging upon us with full force, wearing a mask is the most effective way to protect ourselves. It is especially important to wear a mask if:

o   You are coughing or have other respiratory symptoms

o   You have been exposed to someone who may have COVID-19

o   You have a family member who is sick

The new guideline for wearing a mask suggests that people should use a surgical double mask or an N-95 mask. Dispose off the surgical mask after use; if you use an N-95 mask, then it is important to use it in an appropriate manner.

Be extremely careful with nebulizers: Nebulizers are said to be very effective for treating Asthma symptoms, but it aerosolizes droplets from the airways, which are then spread into the air. This allows viruses or other microbes to be transmitted by the nebulizer. In this way, the risk of infection spread by droplets is increased as the nebulizer may send droplets further than they would naturally go through breathing. When a person with Asthma uses a nebulizer, no one else should be in the room during the treatment or for a few hours afterward. If others need to be in the room, it is best for them to wear a mask and gloves.

Can COVID leave people with asthma?Well, there is no evidence that COVID19 leads to the development of Asthma in people. However, many patients having a long-term impact of COVID may experience respiratory problems for a few months even after recovery.

Can asthma inhalers prove to be beneficial?Scientists and medical professionals are looking for different ways and means to contain the situation. There are some studies that suggest medical inhalers used by asthmatic patients can reduce the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in Lung cells and limit the risk of hospitalization in COVID patients. According to the study conducted by the University of Oxford, a common drug used to treat Asthma can help fasten the process of recovery in COVID19 patients. Another study published in The Lancet journal found that inhaled Glucocorticoids can reduce the risk of severe COVID and hospitalization. However, a clinical trial is underway, and we need to wait until conclusive data is evidenced.

How can I differentiate between COVID, asthma, or seasonal allergies?Well, some symptoms are similar between these respiratory illnesses. However, COVID has some typical symptoms:

¾   Fever

¾   Chills

¾   Cough

¾   Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

¾   Feeling tired and weak

¾   Muscle or body aches

¾   Headache

¾   New loss of taste or smell

¾   Sore throat

¾   Stuffy or runny nose

¾   Diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting

¾   Pinkeye

¾   Painful blue or Purple lesions (such as a sore or bruise on toes also called as COVID toes)

¾   Hives or rashes

It is important to note that respiratory illnesses may worsen Asthma, so continue taking your Asthma control medicines. If you have a fever and a cough or notice increased use of your inhaler medications, call your doctor. 

 About the Author

Dr Anshu Punjabi, is the Consultant-Pulmonologist & Sleep Medicine Expert, Fortis Hospital, Mulund

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