Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can heighten the risk associated with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by infection from the new coronavirus.

Because COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, the lung damage and loss of function associated with COPD can increase the chance of COVID-19 complications for those who live with it. It can also worsen health outcomes.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how COVID-19 can affect you if you have COPD, and what you can do to protect yourself from this new coronavirus.

The lung diseases under the COPD umbrella include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

While having COPD may not increase your risk of developing an infection with the new coronavirus, the lung damage caused by COPD may increase your chance of developing more severe COVID-19 symptoms.

COPD can cause the airways in your lungs to become chronically inflamed. This can obstruct the airways, lead to poor airflow, and even destroy the portion of your lungs involved in gas exchange.

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found COPD to be one of the most prevalent underlying diseases present in patients hospitalized for COVID-19. Similar surveillance data was recently published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

According to another meta-analysis, people with COPD are five times more likely to develop COVID-19 as a result of contracting SARS-CoV-2. This analysis also determined that those with COPD are more likely to have profound oxygenation issues.

Additionally, they’re more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit, and to need mechanical ventilation. The same research determined that people with COPD are more likely to succumb to COVID-19.

If you have COPD, it’s especially important to take steps to ensure that you don’t contract the new coronavirus. Here are some tips on ways to protect yourself.

STAY

  • at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people
  • away from mass gatherings and large events
  • away from people who are sick with COVID-19 or show presumptive symptoms
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DO

  • wash your hands well with soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds each time you touch a soiled or contaminated surface
  • use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when you can’t wash your hands right away
  • cover your mouth and nose with the crook of your elbow or a clean tissue each time you cough or sneeze
  • regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often, including kitchen and bathroom faucets, electronic devices, counters, doorknobs, and light switches
  • wear a snug-fitting face mask with at least two layers when in public areas or at your job site
  • talk with your doctor if you have concerns about wearing a face mask
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DON’T

  • touch your nose, mouth, eyes, or face without first washing or sanitizing your hands
  • share dishes, cutlery, cups and glasses, towels, bedding, or other items with other household members if you or they are sick
  • share a bedroom, bathroom, or other common room in your home with members of your household if you or they are sick
  • travel (especially air travel)
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It’s also important to pay attention to your health and to not let the current pandemic disrupt the steps you typically take to stay on top of your COPD.

KEEP

  • to your COPD or disease-specific care plan as prescribed by your doctor
  • a well-stocked supply* of your:
    • prescribed medications
    • daily home essentials
    • oxygen, if this is part of your care routine
  • vaccinations current (these can help protect you from other illnesses that can worsen coronavirus disease outcomes)
  • stress in check as too much stress can lower your body’s immune defenses
  • to a prescribed workout regimen to help strengthen your physical and immune health
  • away from tobacco products, which can further inflame your lungs, impair lung and immune function, and increase your risk of severe COVID-19 complications
  • in touch with your doctor about changes to your health status or care plan

*Try to have the above supplies delivered to limit exposure and contact.

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Call your doctor if you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19. The most common symptoms are similar to those you may have with COPD, but may be more pronounced than usual. Typical symptoms include:

Other symptoms may include:

Also, let your doctor know if you’ve had close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, or has symptoms.

Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes. Even if this person didn’t have any symptoms, they could have still infected you for several days before they showed symptoms or tested positive.

Your doctor will assess your symptoms, advise you on what measures to take, and arrange for necessary interventions. They’ll also determine if and when you need to get tested for the disease.

If you do not have a primary care doctor, contact your local public health department for care and testing options.

If you’ve had close contact with a person who has COVID-19, you will need to quarantine yourself for 14 days. This is the average time it takes to develop symptoms.

No specific protocol currently exists for treating COVID-19. Current treatments aim to alleviate symptoms of the disease. How well these treatments work depends on your health status and the severity of your illness.

In some instances, you may be able to recover at home. But, if the disease progresses, you may need medical care.

At-home care

If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may advise you to care for yourself at home. This includes self-isolating for at least 10 days and carefully monitoring your symptoms to make sure they don’t get worse.

This also includes checking your temperature at least twice daily to determine whether you have a fever.

If you use nebulized bronchodilator treatments at home, close the door of your room before starting treatment as it may aerosolize SARS-CoV-2. Keep your door closed for at least 3 hours afterward as the virus particles have been shown to float in the air for 1 to 3 hours.

COVID-19 self-isolation may be discontinued after all three of the below apply:

  • at least 10 days have passed since symptom(s) first appeared
  • 3 days (72 hours) with no fever (without the use of fever-reducing measures)
  • respiratory symptoms have improved

Consult with your doctor before discontinuing self-isolation. People who have a weakened immune system may transmit the virus for longer than 10 days.

Primary care doctor or urgent care

See your doctor or go to a local urgent care clinic if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • mild, intermittent shortness of breath
  • mild, intermittent chest or abdominal pain
  • persistent coughing
  • low-grade fever of 100.4°F (38°C) to less than 103°F (39.4°C) that lasts more than 3 days and does not improve with cooling measures

Emergency care

Call 911, or get to a hospital’s emergency department as soon as possible if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • persistent or severe shortness of breath
  • persistent or severe chest or abdominal pain
  • confusion or trouble thinking clearly
  • bluish lips or nail beds
  • high-grade fever of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher that recurs or does not improve with cooling measures
  • headache
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea

Having COPD won’t necessarily put you at a higher risk of developing COVID-19. But, because COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, having COPD may increase your chance of developing more serious complications if you contract the new coronavirus.

If you have COPD, be sure to stick to your usual care plan and follow all public health recommendations for minimizing the risk of developing and transmitting COVID-19.

This includes staying at least 6 feet away from other people, not attending large gatherings, wearing a face mask, and washing your hands frequently.

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, be sure to call your doctor. They’ll advise you on what measures to take. They’ll also determine if and when you need to get tested for the disease.