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Coronavirus and asthma: What to know about the lung disease and COVID-19

“This is a scary time for all of us, but we will get through this,” one asthma expert said.
/ Source: TODAY

The new coronavirus is causing anxiety for many people with pre-existing medical problems, including those with asthma.

The lung disease, which makes breathing difficult, is among conditions that appear to make people more vulnerable to the severe form of COVID-19, the illness caused by the bug, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition has been known to worsen with other strains of coronavirus, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America noted. Still, it doesn't look like people with asthma are at higher risk of catching COVID-19, it said.

As of April 18, asthma wasn't among the top 10 chronic health problems suffered by people who have died of COVID-19 in New York, the state's health department reported. (The top cormobidities included hypertension, diabetes and high blood cholesterol.)

It's "striking" that asthma appeared to be "under-represented in the comorbidities reported for patients with COVID-19," doctors wrote in a commentary published in The Lancet on April 3.

Actor Idris Elba, a high-profile asthma sufferer, revealed he tested positive for the coronavirus. In a video he posted on Twitter on March 17, the star said he was generally feeling well, but expressed concern about possible complications to come.

“I have asthma, so I sort of fit in the high category of most at risk,” he said. “I have a respiratory issue and I’ve had asthma all my life so, you know, catching corona was definitely not on my bucket list at all.

“I’m worried about having asthma and how that could make things really complicated for me very quickly.”

Elba added his asthma was "OK" so far and that he didn't feel any restriction on his breathing or his lungs. In an interview with the Associated Press, published April 20, the actor and his wife said they only had mild symptoms, but called the experience "definitely scary and unsettling and nervous."

Since the virus is new, doctors are still investigating how it affects people with the condition. A February study of 140 people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 in China found asthma was not a risk factor for the infection.

“The data are limited and at this time do not demonstrate any clear evidence of increased risk of disease or severity of disease for those with asthma,” Dr. Mitchell Grayson, chair of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's Medical Scientific Council, wrote in a statement in March.

“However, it is important that all patients with asthma take their medications and keep their asthma under control.”

That may be more difficult as some parts of the country experience shortages of albuterol inhalers because hospitals are increasingly using the devices to help COVID-19 patients breathe better, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology warned. The recent approval of the first generic albuterol inhaler in the U.S. should increase the supply, it noted.

People with the condition should take precautions when any type of respiratory illness is spreading in their community, experts advised.

That includes the usual advice: frequent hand washing, social distancing, staying at home if there’s local widespread disease and having a two-week supply of supplies.

“This is a scary time for all of us, but we will get through this,” Grayson wrote.