If you live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you already think a lot about your breathing and your lung health. COVID-19, the respiratory illness that the new coronavirus causes, probably has raised many questions for you.
Doctors are learning more about the pandemic every day. Here’s what we know so far about COVID-19 and what it might mean for your health.
Understand Your Risks
About 80% of people recover fully from COVID-19 without medical treatment. But your COPD puts you at higher risk to get seriously sick if you were to get infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Severe COVID-19 could lead to:
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which fills your lungs with fluids so you can’t breathe in enough oxygen
- Heart damage
- Shock, which disrupts your circulatory system and prevents blood from reaching organs. It can be deadly.
Doctors can’t say yet exactly how much risk your COPD can add. They do know that COVID-19 is likely to make you sicker than it does people who don’t have the condition.
Other things that raise your chances for serious illness with COVID-19 include if you:
- Are over 60
- Have high blood pressure
- Have diabetes
- Have heart disease
- Have cancer
- Have a weakened immune system
- Smoke or vape
Your COPD may pose extra harm because your damaged airways may have a harder time fighting off the coronavirus.
Understand the signs of COVID-19 so you can get medical help if you need it. The three key things to look for are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. You already may have coughing and shortness of breath because of your COPD.
COPD typically doesn’t give you a fever. If you run a temperature, about 100.4 F or above, along with other COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor.
COVID-19 or COPD?
Though a fever could mean you have COVID-19, there’s no certain way to know whether your symptoms are a result of COVID-19, COPD, or some other infection. If you already have COPD, talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- Worsening breathing problems
- More coughing
- New types of coughing
- Changes in phlegm color or amount
- More wheezing
- Lower blood oxygen levels at rest
- Increased oxygen use
- More use of rescue inhaler
How to Protect Yourself
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will help protect you. Also, if COVID-19 is spreading in your area, stay home as much as possible except for urgent medical appointments. You may have a COPD action plan that says you will start antibiotics or steroids when your symptoms flare. Ask whether you need to make any adjustments, especially if you live where SARS-CoV-2 is widespread.
Like everyone else, be sure to wash your hands often. It also may be a good idea if you have COPD to:
- Have food, household supplies, and medications you need for a while. Ask for an early refill or a 90-day supply of your prescriptions if possible.
- Confirm your oxygen company has a plan to continue on-time deliveries.
- Make sure you have a working oximeter and thermometer.
- Stick to your COPD treatment plan, and keep the condition under control.
- Stay healthy, including getting lots of sleep, exercising, and eating right.