This Common Condition May Not Actually Make You High Risk for COVID

Research suggests this respiratory ailment won't necessarily increase the severity of coronavirus.

Research suggests that a number of common health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, can increase a person's risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. However, there's one surprising condition that may not actually cause a significant increase in the severity of a person's coronavirus symptoms: asthma.

According to a June paper published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, individuals with asthma seem to have similar risk levels for becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 as the general population.

"People with asthma—even those with diminished lung function who are being treated to manage asthmatic inflammation—seem to be no worse affected by SARS-CoV-2 than a non-asthmatic person," paper co-author Reynold A. Panettieri, Jr., a pulmonary critical care physician and director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science, said in a statement.

While Panettieri notes that researchers haven't identified exactly why this might be, there are a number of theories; he says that quarantine and social distancing measures have limited many asthma patients' exposure to allergens or viruses that might otherwise exacerbate their condition, and that many individuals have been even more vigilant about managing their condition since the pandemic began. Panettieri also notes that asthma is typically a condition that affects younger individuals, who tend to be less severely affected by coronavirus in general.

young asian woman using nebulizer mask in hospital for coronavirus or asthma treatment
Shutterstock/Krisda Ponchaipulltawee

However, the role of one of the most common treatments for asthma—inhaled corticosteroids—has yet to be conclusively established as either beneficial or detrimental to coronavirus patients. While Panettieri explains that use of corticosteroids may make it more difficult for coronavirus to effectively infect asthma patients using those medications, these medications are not risk-free.

"Inhaled corticosteroids suppress the immune system," explains physician Leann Poston, MD, of Invigor Medical. While this could potentially leave asthma patients more susceptible to other infections, Poston notes that that they may actually reduce the risk of the body attacking its own healthy tissue. "Corticosteroids decrease inflammation and prevent an overreaction of the immune system—a cytokine storm," which can cause organ failure, Poston explains.

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At the same time, this doesn't mean that individuals with asthma should throw caution to the wind. According to a July study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, asthma patients with coronavirus are typically intubated for longer than the general population, potentially putting them at risk for additional medical complications.

So, while there may be a bit of a silver lining for individuals with asthma amid the pandemic, taking personal safety precautions—including continuing to wear masks, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, and practice social distancing—is still in everyone's best interest. And for more good news, If You Have This COVID Symptom, You Likely Won't End Up in the Hospital.

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