COVID-19 causes symptoms that can be particularly severe for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) sufferers. COPD patients are not at higher risk to contract the coronavirus, however patients who develop COVID-19 are at higher risk for complications and worse health outcomes. If you have COPD, here is what you need to know about COVID-19 and your health.

COPD patients and covid-19

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a type of virus that infects human beings. COVID stands for coronavirus, which is the type of virus that causes this respiratory illness. The “19” in the name stands for 2019, which is the year we discovered the virus in people. In the same way, there are several different types of influenza viruses that cause the flu, there are seven types of coronaviruses. The particular virus that causes a COVID-19 infection is called SARS-Cov-2.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are respiratory in nature. Patients experience flu symptoms such as fever, chills, and body aches, but they can also have a cough, difficulty breathing, headache, sore throat, congestion, diarrhea, and a loss of smell. The symptoms of this disease can range from mild to severe. As of March 2021, more than half a million people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. However, this illness is just a year old so the long-term symptoms of having the disease are still being studied.

What is COPD?

what is COPDIf you have COPD, you’re probably already worried about breathing properly. COPD causes lung inflammation that makes it more difficult to breathe. Once diagnosed with COPD, the disease isn’t reversible, but the symptoms can be controlled.

COPD is a blanket term for several different illnesses. Patients with COPD may have:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which damages the small hair-like fibers in the lungs
  • Emphysema, which is damage to the air sacs in your lungs
  • Refractory asthma, which is a nonreversible type of bronchial inflammation

The cause of COPD is the long-term exposure to common environmental irritants. If you smoke or breathe in a lot of secondhand smoke, you may develop one of the types of COPD. Air pollution, dust, and certain chemicals can cause COPD over time. COPD is a slow-developing disease, which is why it’s typically diagnosed in people over 40-years old. There are also genetic factors that could play a role; however, the cause of COPD is normally environment exposures. 

Does COPD Put Me More at Risk for COVID-19?

While COPD patients are not more at risk for developing COVID-19, having COPD could impact the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

A recent study shows COPD is not a risk factor in developing COVID-19. COVID-19 can cause mild to severe illness up to and including death. Patients with preexisting conditions, whether it’s COPD, heart disease, obesity, or a suppressed immune system, may develop more severe symptoms from COVID-19. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists some underlying medical conditions that could exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms. However, they point out that this list is by no means exhaustive. Some of the underlying conditions that we know can impact the severity of COVID-19 include:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD
  • Down Syndrome
  • Heart conditions
  • Immune system disorders
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes

While about 80% of COVID patients recover without hospitalization, COPD patients are at higher risk to become seriously ill if infected with the coronavirus.

For COPD patients, it is important that they protect themselves from COVID-19. While inoculation against COVID-19 has shown to be effective in lessening the severity of the illness, COPD patients should follow all social distancing, mask-wearing, and hygiene guidelines until the pandemic is officially over to help them stay safe. 

How Are the Symptoms of COPD Different from COVID?

While COPD and COVID-19 share some respiratory symptoms, there are a few symptoms stemming from a COVID-19 infection that are different from COPD. Watch for fever and a loss of smell, which are key indicators that you’ve contracted the coronavirus. COPD doesn’t typically give you a fever and if you have a fever it also doesn’t mean you necessarily have COVID-19, either, although you should call your doctor for a COVID test.

COVID-19 attacks the lungs in the person afflicted with the illness. This is a cause for concern for COPD patients whose lungs are already compromised. COVID-19 and COPD share lung-related symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and increased breathlessness.

If you have COPD call your doctor if you notice:

  • Changes in the color or amount of phlegm
  • Changes in how much you need the rescue inhaler
  • Increases or changes in coughing
  • Increases in the amount of oxygen you use
  • Increases in wheezing 
  • Lower blood oxygen levels when resting

How Can I Stay Healthier with COPD?

Staying healthy with COPD requires you to follow the treatments recommended by your doctor. Typical pulmonary rehabilitation programs use exercise, nutrition, counseling, and medications to fight COPD. There is no cure for COPD, so treatment goals are to slow disease progression and improve the quality of your life. 

Some of the typical non-surgical treatments for COPD include:

  • Antibiotics to fight bacteria
  • Bronchodilators to open the airways
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Oxygen therapy to increase the level of oxygen in the blood

More severe cases of COPD may require surgical intervention in the form of a lung volume reduction surgery or even a transplant.

For COPD patients, staying healthy is critical. If you’re living with the disease you should:

  • Avoid smoke, including secondhand smokestay healthy with COPD
  • Avoid dust and air pollution or any allergy triggers
  • Do breathing exercises including controlled coughing
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise as recommended by your doctor
  • Get regular checkups
  • Stay hydrated
  • Use a humidifier to clear your lungs

This also means avoiding possible exposure to COVID-19. COPD patients should:

  • Avoid sick people
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Keep your hands clean
  • Practice social distancing
  • Stay at home
  • Wear a mask 

While COPD doesn’t put you at risk to develop COVID-19, it is more dangerous if you get the virus. Mitigating your risk means working closely with your doctor to prevent additional illness. Pulmonary Care of Central Florida is devoted to caring for our patients. Talk with our team today—we can help.

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