The hope was that 2021 would be a better year—widespread vaccination, an improved understanding of COVID-19 management, and maybe the virus would just disappear. The reality, however, is that the virus continues to cycle through the population fueled by mutations. Increasing vaccination rates have improved overall prospects, but people with medical conditions, such as underlying lung disease, are especially susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
A recently published research study found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can more readily infect individuals with compromised respiratory systems, such as those with chronic lung disease. The study also identified that older age, male gender, smoking, and certain comorbidities (diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure) as risk factors for COVID-19 that are exacerbated by chronic lung disease. According to study author Linh Bui, Ph.D., the immune cells of patients with chronic lung disease undergo genetic changes that result in a subdued response to viral infection, leading to a more severe disease and worse outcomes.
Tips and Resources for Maintaining Lung Health
Patients with the following chronic lung diseases can get severely ill from COVID-19:
- Bronchiectasis (thickening of the airways in the lungs)
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (chronic lung disease in newborns)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; 5-fold higher risk of infection)
- Damages or scarred lung tissue (interstitial lung disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs)
- Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
- Interstitial lung disease (4-fold higher risk of death from COVID-19)
Experts recommend that those who are vulnerable should avoid crowds, and if outside, remain masked and maintain a safe physical distance from others. This may not always be possible, however, but the following precautions should help:
- Get vaccinated. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, make sure you get your seasonal flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine.
- Be aware of symptoms and get tested. Unfortunately, most symptoms of COVID-19 resemble other respiratory illnesses, such as cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, etc. Be cautious and get tested, especially if you think you may have been exposed to the virus. Early treatment can prevent severe symptoms.
- Make sure you continue taking your prescribed medication regimen.
Overall, the American Lung Association has the following advice for anyone who wants to maintain a healthy pair of lungs:
- Do not smoke
- Minimize your exposure to indoor (secondhand smoke, chemicals, radon) and outdoor air pollutants
- Reduce your risk of getting infections
- Stay on top of your medical check ups
Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.