Living With RA: How to Protect Yourself From COVID-19

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 19, 2020

When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 with severe symptoms.

Experts aren’t sure why, but it’s possible that RA makes infection more likely. Medications that suppress your immune system may also put you at a higher risk. Age and other underlying conditions may also play a role. If you get infected, your symptoms may be more severe.

To protect yourself from COVID-19, start with these basics:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Try to keep your hands away from your face. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • If you don’t have soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces often.
  • Stay home when you can.
  • Wear a face mask when you go out in public.
  • Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Avoid crowded areas, large gatherings, and public transportation.
  • Don’t go near people who are sick.

There are many more things you can do to limit your exposure and reduce your risk. Take these simple steps.

Talk to Your Doctor if You Feel Sick or May Have Been Exposed to COVID-19

Because you have higher risk, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you feel sick or were exposed to COVID-19. Call right away if you have a fever, shortness of breath, or a cough. Avoid walk-in visits unless it’s a true emergency. Call your doctor, urgent care center, or hospital to see if you should come in.

Use Telemedicine

The safest way to avoid exposure to germs is to stay home. Instead of in-person medical visits, try telemedicine. Many rheumatologists and other health care professionals now offer virtual visits on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. It’s easy, convenient, and helps you stay healthy without risk of exposure.

Don’t Stop Your Medications on Your Own

Experts don’t yet know how rheumatology medications affect COVID-19, so it’s important to make decisions with your doctor. Going off your medication may trigger a flare, which may be even worse. Don’t do it on your own. Talk to your doctor to weigh the risks and benefits together.

Get Your Flu Shot

With RA, it’s extra important to keep up with your vaccines. That starts with a flu shot. Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot. Ask if you should also get pneumonia and shingles vaccines.

Use Masks the Right Way

Always wear a face mask in public, especially when you can’t keep a safe social distance of 6 feet. Choose a mask with two or more layers, which is best for stopping the spread of COVID-19. Make sure it covers both your nose and your mouth. After you touch a used mask, wash your hands. Skip the gaiters and face shields. The CDC doesn’t recommend them because they don’t yet know how well they work.

Wash and Dry Your Masks Properly

Wash your mask after you use it. You can put it with your regular laundry and use regular laundry detergent. Choose the warmest water setting that’s safe for the type of cloth you have. Make sure you dry it completely. Put it in the dryer on the highest setting or let it air dry on a flat surface.

Don’t Rely on Gloves

Gloves don’t always protect you from getting infected, and they can spread germs. The CDC recommends wearing gloves when you’re cleaning or when you’re caring for someone who’s sick, but not for everyday situations like running errands, grocery shopping, or using an ATM. It’s better to wash your hands after you go out or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Clean and Disinfect

Clean frequently touched surfaces often. Think doorknobs, light switches, tables, countertops, handles, phones, desks, and computer keyboards. In the bathroom, pay extra attention to sinks, faucets, and toilets. Clean dirty surfaces with detergent or soap and water. Next, disinfect surfaces with a household cleaner that’s approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Look for the EPA registration number on your cleaner, then see if it’s on the EPA’s list of approved disinfectants.

Consider an Air Purifier

During the pandemic, your home may be the safest place to be. If you socialize only with people you live with, you probably don’t need an air purifier. But if someone in your household has COVID-19 or may have been exposed to it, you may want to try an air purifier. Put it in their room and keep the door closed to lower your risk of exposure.

Go Outdoors

COVID-19 spreads mostly from person to person through droplets that get into the air from our mouths and noses. You’re more likely to inhale the droplets indoors, where you share more air. You have less risk outside, where air is constantly moving. Choose outdoor activities when you can. Go for a walk, stroll around a park, have a picnic, or try a drive-in movie. Just be sure to keep a safe distance from others.

Show Sources


Hospital for Special Surgery: “Coronavirus and Rheumatic Disease: How to Stay Safe,” “What to Know About Rheumatic Disease and the COVID-19 Coronavirus.”

The Rheumatologist: “ACR Updates COVID-19 Clinical Guidance for Adult Patients.”

CDC: “How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask,” “How to Protect Yourself and Others,” “How to Wash Masks,” “When to Wear Gloves.”

Mather Hospital Northwell Health: “Living with rheumatoid arthritis during COVID-19.”

EPA: “6 Steps for Safe & Effective Disinfectant Use.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “Can air purifiers protect you from COVID-19?”

Mayo Clinic: “Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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