These are challenging times when a virus that impacts directly on the lungs has crippled the health of millions. Increase in pollution raises susceptibility to the infection, something which was already aggravating respiratory illnesses like asthma. While air pollution has dropped sharply around the world, including India, the novel virus that targets the lungs affecting millions of lives could potentially put an asthmatic patient at risk. Currently, with minimal evidence, there is no study to substantiate the impact of the virus COVID-19 on asthmatics; however, in a country like ours where about six percent of children and two percent of adults live with asthma, the situation calls for more vigilance.
The statistics shared by the World Health Organisation are alarming, stating that more than 235 million people suffer from asthma across the globe. Moreover, not only over 80% of asthma deaths occur in low and lower-middle income countries, children are the most affected victims of the disease. Additionally, we cannot ignore the fact that older patients living with a pre-existing medical history of severe asthma are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Impact Of COVID-19 On Asthma Patience
Let's understand what is asthma's impact on the patients living with the disease. Simply put, asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes sporadic breathing difficulties. It affects the airways of the lungs, which swell up, making it difficult to breathe. There is currently no cure, but symptoms can be managed. So, how does the outbreak of a pandemic affect an asthma patient?
An asthma attack happens when the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed and thick mucus is produced. Now, these factors lead to wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in chest and retractions. Some patients also experience difficulty in talking and performing daily tasks.Now, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) leads to respiratory manifestations like acute respiratory distress syndrome, hence, researchers anticipated that it would make patients with chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) more vulnerable to the infection. Most people have mild to moderate asthmas, as the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours after treatment and they maintain normal life with their treatment which is inhalers.
Treatments Of Asthma
However, severe asthma attacks, even though they are less common, they last longer and require immediate medical help. Hence, especially at a time like this, it is imperative that patients take simple measures at home to protect themselves and avoid hospital visits.
Over the years, we have been managing asthma with effective medications which reduce hospital stays and have proven to be clinically efficacious. Today, we also have therapies like Bronchial Thermoplasty that has transformed the course of treatment for asthma patients. The therapy works particularly well for patients who depend on oral steroids and high dose inhaled corticosteroids to manage asthma symptoms. It uses gentle heat to open the airways as a result, the patient experiences fewer asthma attacks. However, you will still need an inhaler or other asthma medicines.
Managing Asthma Symptoms At Home During COVID-19
1. Ensure that you do not stop using any medications or alter your asthma treatment plan without speaking to your doctor
2. Get a list of emergency prescriptions and medications from your doctors and ensure that you stock up on at least a few weeks of medications to keep them handy at home.
3. If possible, get someone who does not have asthma to disinfect the room and your living area for you.
4. If you are using any sprays to disinfect surfaces, ensure that the products are first poured on a cleaning cloth or paper towel instead of spraying the product directly onto the cleaning surface.
5. If it is imperative that you must go to the hospital, do not spend a lot of time in the waiting area. In fact if possible seek video or telephonic consult before going to hospital
6. Smokers should ideally quit as smoking does increase risk of getting infected with Covid-19.
7. Goes without saying, people with asthma should strictly adhere to strict self-isolation and social distancing rules. You must isolate them. Any food or medicines should be delivered at the front door and keep a distance from anyone else in the household.
8. Look out for symptoms like fever >101o F or breathlessness, discolouration of hands, legs and face and consult a doctor at the earliest before the problem aggravates. Speak to a doctor as many asthmatic symptoms are closely related to the COVID-19, hence, get a clear perspective on what the symptoms indicate. Seek advice and treatment from a distance.
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That said, even as we wait for more evidence-based studies to establish risk assessments between asthma and COVID-19, we cannot rule out the possibility of asthma patients being at a greater risk of contracting the virus. Hence, it is advisable to take the necessary precautions and ensure that the symptoms are managed at the initial stages.
About the author: Dr. Deepak Talwar who is the director and chairman at Pulmonology Metro Hospitals & Heart Institute, Noida
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