The symptoms section of this article was updated on May 19, 2020.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus causes the illness COVID-19, which may lead to mild to severe respiratory problems. These symptoms may mean people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have a higher risk of more severe illness from COVID-19 due to their existing lung problems.

In this article, we look at how COVID-19 may affect people with COPD, symptoms to look for, and extra precautions people with COPD can take.

Coronavirus resources

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

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During the COVID-19 outbreak, a person with COPD should stay at home except for essential medical care.

According to a 2020 report of 140 people with COVID-19, having COPD does not make people any more likely to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

However, if a person with COPD contracts the virus, they may be more likely to experience breathlessness. This means that hospitalization may also be more likely.

Despite this, according to one expert from the European Lung Foundation, most people with COPD may experience no symptoms or mild symptoms and make a complete recovery.

People with severe COPD may have a higher risk of COVID-19 complications as COVID-19 affects the respiratory system. Existing lung damage means it is more difficult for the lungs to fight off an infection.

According to a meta-analysis of seven studies, the researchers concluded that those with COPD may have a significantly increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 infections.

A 2020 case series from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention documented the coronavirus outbreak in China.

The overall case fatality rate (CFR) was 2.3%, which means there were 1,023 deaths in 44,672 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In people with chronic respiratory disease, the CFR was 6.3%.

A person with COPD should not stop taking their treatments, including corticosteroids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

People may develop symptoms 2–14 days after exposure to novel coronavirus.

People with COPD should continue their treatment for COPD as usual during the COVID-19 outbreak. They should keep at least a 30-day supply of any prescription medication and preferably a 90-day supply.

People can check with their oxygen provider to ensure that their routine oxygen supply will continue as usual.

An individual can also take the following precautions:

  1. Stay at home except for essential medical care.
  2. If absolutely necessary to go out, stay 6 feet away from others.
  3. Wash hands regularly, and particularly after being in a public place, with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
  4. Make sure to have enough food and everyday supplies in the house.
  5. Where possible, get items delivered or ask others to drop items off to avoid excess travel.
  6. Avoid contact with others wherever possible.
  7. If people live with others who are leaving and entering the home, make sure they frequently wash their hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
  8. If people require external home help or healthcare visits, ensure these individuals are taking all necessary hygiene precautions.
  9. Clean and disinfect surfaces that people touch frequently, such as door handles, countertops, and bathroom surfaces.
  10. Avoid touching the face with unwashed hands.
  11. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow, then discard tissues straightaway.

Quitting smoking can help to strengthen the respiratory system against COVID-19.

It is important that people manage their COPD symptoms during the COVID-19 outbreak.

People can create a management plan with a healthcare team. This can help them keep track of medication, monitor COPD symptoms, and check that symptoms are not worsening. A person can call their doctor to discuss this over the phone if they do not already have a plan in place.

Eating a healthful diet and drinking plenty of water can also help to support the body and remove excess mucus from the lungs.

Some people may find that eating fewer carbohydrates and more healthful fats improve their breathing.

The American Lung Association have a selection of breathing exercises that may help ease shortness of breath and relax the airways.

Asking others for help and talking with friends, family, or healthcare professionals can help maintain emotional and mental health.

If people with COPD test positive for COVID-19, it is important that they follow the guidelines to help protect themselves and others against the virus.

If someone has severe symptoms of COVID-19, they may require treatment in the hospital. Once people inform their doctor of a positive test result for COVID-19, a doctor will be able to assess their symptoms and advise the next steps.

If people have mild symptoms, they may be able to treat and relieve symptoms at home.

If people have COVID-19, it is important they self-isolate. This means staying at home and limiting contact with others, as much as possible. These restrictions can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

If people are sharing a home with others, they can take care to stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if possible. People with COVID-19 should also wear a face mask when around others.

If people have any of the following symptoms, they should seek medical help immediately:

  • difficulty breathing
  • persistent pressure or pain in the chest
  • new state of confusion
  • lips or face turn bluish

Currently, there is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and will depend on the individual and severity of illness.

People may be able to treat mild symptoms at home by following their usual COPD treatment plan and carefully monitoring their symptoms.

For more severe cases, people will need treatment in a hospital to treat or prevent complications. Occasionally, people may require supplemental oxygen and advanced support for the respiratory system and other organs.

People with COPD may be at higher risk of respiratory disease, which includes those that coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, cause. This is because existing damage to the lungs can worsen other respiratory diseases, which include those that coronaviruses may lead to.

People with COPD can take extra precautions to help prevent themselves from contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and developing COVID-19. It is important to stay home unless for essential trips. Hand washing and keeping a clean home also help to prevent the spread of viruses.

If people do develop symptoms of COVID-19, they can call their doctor who will advise what to do. If people have severe symptoms, they should seek medical care immediately.