What if I Get COVID-19 with Asthma?

Last Editorial Review: 3/25/2020

Ask the experts

I have a chronic medical condition that puts me at increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, even though I'm only 36. I have asthma. If I get COVID-19, am I more likely to become seriously ill? How can you tell the difference between an asthma attack and COVID-19 symptoms? What can I do to reduce my risk?

Doctor's response

What you need to do is what authorities have been describing for everyone to do: Social distancing, stay at home, avoid any people who may have the disease, anyone coughing with a fever or shortness of breath.

  • Having asthma, unfortunately, is a risk factor for COVID-19. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get it, but it increases your odds.
  • If you have asthma, that’s an illness that compromises your immune system, but also your respiratory tract. Either of those things is a risk factor by itself, and both together are worse.
  • In people with asthma comorbid with coronavirus, the symptoms tend to change and become more severe.
  • Usually with asthma, you have an inducer like an allergen. So, if you recognize your symptoms as a common asthma attack, it’s probably not COVID-19.
  • With COVID-19, you don’t have that inducer; If there is a dry cough with shortness of breath or a fever, then it may be COVID-19.
  • Your risk really depends on the type of asthma you have, however. If you have sporadic, short asthma attacks, and the shortness of breath and wheezing is usually quite well controlled, then you likely have an asthma attack and not COVID-19.

I think it’s always important to have a medicine bag packed with all your prescriptions if you have a medical condition like heart problems, asthma, diabetes, etc.

If you have a cough that is getting worse and you’re getting short of breath, you probably have to have a direct line to your primary care physician, and he or she can refer you to go to the hospital

If you are steady in your cough and don’t get winded, I’d reconsider calling your doctor. If you have serious comorbid problems like cancer therapy and things that really attack your immune response, you need to talk to your doctor and both develop a plan of action before you get worse.

Most people with secondary problems like asthma are probably pre-qualified for COVID-19 testing anyway.

  • You just want to make sure you get tested in a place where there’s no cross-contamination.
  • You don’t want to get the infection while you’re trying to get tested for the infection.
  • Drive-through clinics for testing is probably your best bet now.
  • However, if you are very short of breath while you are sitting down and not doing anything, you should seek medical help immediately.
  • Call first and ask if you need to be seen and where to be admitted.

It’s an iffy situation, though, because you don’t want to get infected when you go to the ER if you’re not already. But also, the earlier you get treatment, the better the outcome.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers many resources for asthma suffers in general and during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, including "asthma action plan" forms to fill out so you have a solid course of action in medical emergencies.


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U.S. Centers for Disease Control - Asthma Action Plan