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COVID-19 and chronic lung disease: How to stay safe

Illustration of lungs and ribcage (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, limiting social contact is extremely important for people who have underlying health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, and any additional chronic lung illness.

Chronic lung disease is a term used to described a wide variety of persistent lung disorders. Rahat Hussain, MD, says it is crucial for patients with chronic lung conditions to take extra precaution during the middle of COVID-19.

“Because the virus attacks the lungs, patients with chronic lung disease such as asthma, COPD, and pulmonary fibrosis are more susceptible to the COVID-19 infection,” said Hussain, assistant professor of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and pulmonary medicine specialist at UT Physicians.

Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of COVID-19 such as difficulty breathing, fatigue, and cough can mimic the symptoms of chronic lung disease. “The best thing for patients with chronic lung conditions to do during this time is to practice social distancing very rigidly. They should stay six feet apart from others, wash hands frequently, and make sure they have a plan of action in place in case they become infected with the virus,” he said. To prepare or help prevent from worsening conditions, Hussain recommends patients:

  • Practice frequent handwashing
  • Change clothes immediately when returning home from places like the grocery store or doctor’s appointments
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Shower often
  • Stay six feet away from others on public transits
  • Strictly obey the Stay at Home order
  • Disinfect commonly used areas such as phones, tablets, doorknobs, TV remotes, and keyboards
  • Have refills of your medications for at least two months
  • Talk to a health care provider about what to do if you suspect you have COVID-19
  • Know where the closest COVID-19 testing site is
  • Develop a course of action and determine where to go if infected

According to the American Lung Association, more than 35 million Americans live with a chronic lung disease, and Hussain says these patients are most at risk for severe implications if they were to contract the virus.

“The virus is still very new. We know the effects it has on the lungs, and so right now the best thing to do is heed the warnings, stay home, and if you think you have COVID-19, please get yourself checked at any of the locations that the city has set near you and contact your lung doctor immediately to follow their guidance on what to do next,” he said.

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