Viral respiratory tract infections, such as COVID-19, often worsen breathing problems in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Having COPD increases a person’s risk of complications, severe COVID-19, and mortality.

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease that occurs due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It causes mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, including dry cough and shortness of breath.

COPD is a lung disease that causes restricted airflow in the lungs, which makes it hard to breathe.

Certain underlying medical conditions, including COPD and other chronic lung diseases, can increase a person’s risk of severe illnesses and complications from COVID-19.

Read on to learn more about the outlook for a person with COPD and COVID-19 and their likelihood of survival.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

Was this helpful?
A person arranging bottles of hand sanitizer-2.Share on Pinterest
Prabin Ranabhat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Episodes of respiratory symptom worsening, which doctors call exacerbations, are part of the typical course of COPD, contributing to disease progression.

Viral upper respiratory tract infections commonly cause acute exacerbations and may lead to unfavorable clinical outcomes. This makes people with COPD particularly vulnerable to adverse effects relating to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list COPD as a high risk underlying condition with a conclusive increased risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 outcomes.

A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis on outcomes of people with COPD and COVID-9 found that having COPD increases the risk of unfavorable clinical outcomes in those with COVID-19 significantly. These clinical outcomes include increased hospitalization, ICU admission, and death.

A similar 2021 study found that a greater percentage of people with COPD with COVID-19 were admitted to the ICU and received mechanical ventilation, systemic steroids, other treatments, and palliative care consultation.

The analysis showed that people with COPD had a 68% greater risk of death due to the virus than those without the condition.

Another 2021 data review that studied over 3.4 million people also found those with COPD were twice more likely to die from COVID-19 than individuals without COPD, even after adjusting for other known risk factors.

On the other hand, a 2022 retrospective study found that while people with COPD who had received prior supplemental oxygen had a greater risk of hospitalization from COVID-19, the rate of hospital referral and death was comparable to those without COPD.

The higher rates of hospitalization and death of people with COPD and COVID-19 were mainly due to pneumonia. There was also higher mortality from COVID-19 among older adults with COPD and heart failure.

Because people with COPD are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of COVID-19, it is crucial for them to take precautions to limit the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Aside from performing basic health and hygiene practices, such as regular handwashing and physical distancing, the following can also help prevent COVID-19:

  • staying updated with COVID-19 vaccinations
  • spending more time outdoors and maintaining adequate ventilation indoors
  • using portable high-efficiency particulate air cleaners and increasing air filtration in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems
  • wearing well-fitting masks or respirators
  • getting tested for COVID-19 if necessary, such as when COVID-19 symptoms are present
  • wearing a mask — ideally an N95 mask — isolating, and performing self-monitoring if a person has the virus
  • avoiding contact with people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19
  • immediately seeking treatment for COVID-19, especially for those who are at a high risk of COVID-19 complications

People with COPD and their caregivers may also talk with doctors about possible changes in their COPD action plan when symptoms flare.

COVID-19 can cause a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. A person should call 911 or their local emergency facility if they have any of these emergency warning signs for the disease:

  • trouble breathing
  • new confusion
  • pressure or persistent pain in the chest
  • inability to wake or stay awake
  • bluish, pale, or gray-colored lips, skin, or nailbeds

However, these are not all possible warning signs of COVID-19. A person should still seek urgent medical attention if they are experiencing other symptoms they find concerning or severe.

COPD as an underlying condition increases a person’s risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

They are at a higher risk of death from COVID-19 compared with those without COPD. This makes it crucial for people with COPD to take precautions to help limit the risk of COVID-19. These precautions include wearing a mask, physically distancing from others, and maintaining appropriate hygiene.

People should also seek urgent medical attention if they experience any emergency warning signs for COVID-19 and talk with a doctor about possible changes in their COPD action plan.