World Asthma Day: Research underway on how those with respiratory condition affected by COVID-19

It’s an inflammatory disease known to cause dry and chronic coughs as well as shortness of breath. In some cases, it can be fatal.

It isn’t COVID-19, but asthma. And amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there is growing concern about how COVID-19, a respiratory disease, may impact the health of people with a preexisting respiratory condition.

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On World Asthma Day, here is what you should know about the condition and how those diagnosed with it are being impacted by COVID-19:

What is asthma?

The Mayo Clinic defines asthma as a condition in which one’s airways narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus. In turn, this can create mild-to-severe breathing difficulties. While asthma typically starts in childhood, it can develop in adults in later years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Asthma can't be cured,” the Mayo Clinic notes, “But its symptoms can be controlled.” 

Typical means of addressing asthma symptoms include breathing exercises, prescribed medicines and tools such as inhalers and nebulizers. 

In some cases, asthma can cause death, with more than 80% of asthma-related deaths occurring in “low and lower-middle income countries,” the WHO says.

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How many people suffer from asthma?

In the United States, there are more than 24 million Americans who have asthma, according to 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 5 million of those individuals were under the age of 18, making asthma the “most common chronic condition among American children,” Healthline reports.

According to CDC data, women have been diagnosed with asthma in higher numbers than men (14.9 million vs. 9.7 million). There is a higher number of White non-Hispanic individuals who have been diagnosed with asthma (15.4 million) than other races and ethnicities. The CDC also reported high numbers of members of the Black and Hispanic communities who had asthma.

According to the WHO, over 235 million people worldwide are presently living with the condition. 

How are people with asthma impacted by COVID-19?

People with asthma are just as susceptible to potential contraction of COVID-19 as the rest of the population. COVID-19’s impacts on those with asthma versus the larger population are still being studied.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cited two studies in which the relationship between the novel coronavirus and its impacts on individuals with asthma are being explored. 

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One of the studies is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a key component of which is to “determine if infection rates or immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection differ in children who have asthma or other allergic conditions” versus those who do not, according to the NIH.

The second is an observational study that focuses on whether certain characteristics of the immune response “influence or reflect the severity of infection.” The results of that study could prove helpful in determining how or whether conditions like asthma influence the body’s response to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

While it would make sense that individuals with asthma may be at a greater risk of developing serious health risks from COVID-19, in general, it is hard to determine just how much COVID-19 can or will impact a particular person. 

For example, a person who has asthma may also have COVID-19 but be completely asymptomatic for the latter condition. Conversely, a person with asthma could contract COVID-19 and develop serious health risks, similar to thousands of other individuals who have been diagnosed.

In the interim, individuals with asthma, just as the general population, can work to prevent possible spread and contraction of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing, frequently washing hands, and covering their face while outdoors and in public.