Coronavirus and Asthma

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 11, 2023
4 min read

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus. That means it can affect your lungs, throat, and nose. For people who have asthma, infection with the virus could lead to an asthma attack, pneumonia, or other serious lung disease.

One small study shows that asthma doesn’t raise your chances of getting infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But if you do get sick, your symptoms could be worse than other people’s because you already have trouble breathing. People with conditions such as asthma are encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to them.

There’s no treatment for COVID-19. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones including getting vaccinated.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • A dry cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Body aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A whistling or wheezing sound when you breathe out

The two conditions share some warning signs. If you have shortness of breath, how can you tell what’s causing it? Pay attention to your other symptoms. Early studies have found that 83% to 99% of people with COVID-19 have a fever, although it might be mild.

What should you do if you have coronavirus and asthma symptoms?

You may worry if you have asthma and get signs of a cold, allergies, or other respiratory problems. Talk to your doctor if you have:

  • A cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

Call your doctor or 911 right away if:

  • Your asthma medicine doesn’t help.
  • You have chest pain or pressure.
  • You have a hard time breathing.
  • You can’t talk because it’s tough to breathe.
  • You feel suddenly confused.
  • Your lips or face are blue.

Getting vaccinated can help prevent infection.

Keep taking your asthma medicine. Stay home as much as possible. That lowers your chance of coming into contact with the virus. It’s a good idea to have a 30-day supply of food, nonprescription drugs, and other household goods on hand.

Your doctor, pharmacist, and insurance company can help you figure out what you need for an emergency supply of prescription medication. Here are some other tips:

  • Know how to use your inhaler.
  • Clean your nebulizer well.
  • Stay away from asthma triggers such as smoke, allergens, and air pollution.
  • Don’t take cruises or unnecessary flights.
  • Avoid close contact with people.
  • Avoid crowds and people who are sick.
  • Don’t share cups, eating utensils, or towels.

If you’re mildly sick, stay home. Always use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze. Throw that tissue away after you use it.

Stay away from people in your house who are sick. If possible, they should stay in a separate room and use another bathroom until they’re better. If they can’t, disinfect any common spaces the ill person uses. You should both wear masks when around each other.

A peak flow diary can help you keep track of your asthma symptoms. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how you can get a peak flow meter, a small device that measures how fast air comes out of your lungs. Write down each day’s readings, how often you use rescue medications and any symptoms you have. This can tell you and your medical team whether your breathing might be getting worse or if your symptoms could be COVID-19.

To prevent complications of coronavirus and asthma:

  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds. That includes your knuckles, thumbs, fingernails, and wrists. If you don’t have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Wash your hands after you:
    • Go out in public
    • Touch a new surface
    • Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze
  • Dry your hands completely after you wash them. And always wash your hands before you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. You can transfer the virus from your hands to your face.
  • Disinfect anything that’s touched a lot. COVID-19 can live a while on certain surfaces. Studies show that it can stick to plastic and stainless steel for up to 3 days. Try to avoid disinfectants that might trigger your asthma. Items you should regularly disinfect include:
    • Tables and countertops
    • Doorknobs
    • Light switches
    • Phones and desks
    • Keyboards
    • Anything in a bathroom (toilet, faucet, sink)
    • Your lips or face are blue.
  • Consider wearing a mask when you are out in public.

Corticosteroid drugs can slow your immune system. But experts say the benefits outweigh any risks for people who have asthma. The most important thing is to keep control of your condition. Keep taking your medicine. Never stop or change medications without talking to your doctor first.

Rescue drugs like bronchodilators don’t affect your immune system. If you have an asthma flare and need to use medicine, an inhaler is best. A nebulizer might spread the virus through the air if you use it while you’re sick. If you must use a nebulizer, do it in a room by yourself.

Children who have asthma may be more likely to have more severe symptoms of any respiratory infection, including COVID-19.

Keep your child at home, have them wear masks (if they are over the age of 2) in public, and limit their contact with other people. Remind them to wash their hands often. Help them keep toys and electronics clean.

Keep an eye on your child’s symptoms, and call their doctor if you have concerns.