COVID-19 and COPD
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COPD and COVID-19 can lead to severe illness and hospitalization
- COPD is the result of long-term, irreversible damage to the lungs
- If you think you might have COVID-19 and you have COPD, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible to see whether you’re eligible for antiviral treatment
COPD and COVID-19 are both respiratory conditions that affect the lungs. People with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) are considered to be at higher risk for developing severe symptoms if they get infected with the coronavirus, which is why it’s advised to be extra cautious of COVID-19 if you have COPD. In this article, we’ll explain the link between COPD and COVID-19, mortality rates, and what to do if you get infected.
What is the link between COPD and COVID-19?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and COVID-19 are said to have a negative interrelationship, which means that people who suffer from COPD will be more affected negatively by an infection with the coronavirus than other people. To understand why COVID-19 affects those with underlying COPD more, it's essential to first look at what it entails. 1
COPD is a condition where certain factors cause irreversible damage to the lungs. These factors may include: 2
- Smoking or second-hand smoke
- Long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust
- Air pollution
- Genetic deficiencies
COPD can not be cured, which means that the damage that presents itself with the condition is irreversible. People with COPD may experience several conditions that cause breathing-related problems, such as: 3
- Chronic bronchitis, which means that the small air passages of the lungs, called the bronchi, are continuously inflamed. Because of this inflammation, there’ll be an overproduction of phlegm, which makes it harder to breathe.
- Emphysema, which means that the number of alveoli in the lungs starts to decrease. These alveoli are small air sacs at the end of the bronchioles. Their surface is the place where the inhaled oxygen passes from the air to the blood, and the carbon dioxide passes from the blood to the air to be exhaled. The more damage they take, the less surface there’s for those gasses to be exchanged in between blood and air. This can lead to low oxygen (hypoxia) and high carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) levels in the blood, causing a feeling of never getting enough air.
Because of these conditions, people with COPD often experience symptoms such as: 4
- Breathlessness, which may worsen over time, makes it difficult to handle daily tasks such as cooking, getting dressed, or walking up a flight of stairs.
- A persistent cough with phlegm that does not go away
- Persistent wheezing
- Frequent chest infections
The impact of COPD on COVID-19
COPD and COVID are linked as they both affect the respiratory system. COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the coronavirus, which can be spread through tiny droplets and smaller aerosols released when talking, coughing, sneezing, or breathing. In most people, the condition only causes mild to moderate symptoms, but people with underlying health conditions such as COPD should take additional measures to prevent getting infected. Studies showed that people with COPD have increased odds of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death caused by COVID-19. 5 6
Although there’s no clear evidence yet that having COPD means that you are more likely to get infected with the coronavirus, studies did indicate that having COPD can worsen the outcome once you’ve been infected.
The reason for this increased risk may lie in the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, which is a receptor in the body that the coronavirus uses. The virus binds to this receptor to enter the cells, after which it can cause damage. People with COPD have a higher expression of these receptors in the lung tissue, making it more likely for the coronavirus to enter their cells.
On top of that, patients with COPD also suffer from a delayed response of the immune system when respiratory viruses enter the body. These factors combined can make it easier for the coronavirus to spread inside the lungs of COPD patients, which can lead to a decline in health and swift progression to severe COVID-19. 7
COPD and severe symptoms of COVID-19 are also related to each other, as people with COPD often have other underlying risk factors, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. COPD is also more common in older people, as it’s mostly the result of long-term inhalation of smoke or harmful particles. Older people and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to get infected with viruses such as the coronavirus. 8
Do people with COPD need specific COVID-19 treatment?
If you think that you may have COPD and COVID-19, it’s essential to contact your physician by telephone as soon as possible. As people with a diagnosis of COPD are considered to be a group that is at risk for severe illness due to the coronavirus, you’re likely eligible for COVID-19 treatment. 9
By taking antiviral medication, you can significantly decrease the possibility of hospitalization or death, as this medication will help lower the amount of virus present in your body while your immune system is fighting off the infection. However, it's crucial to note that for the medication to be effective, it should be started between 5 to 7 days after you first experience symptoms, depending on which drug your physician prescribes you. 10
Because of the small window that you have for this medication to be effective, and the high-risk profile that people with COPD have, it’s important to contact your doctor immediately once you start experiencing symptoms so that you can get tested and get a prescription for medication as soon as possible.
What are the odds of surviving COVID-19 with COPD?
The odds of surviving COVID-19 with COPD vary depending on several factors, such as the severity of the COPD, age, and other underlying health conditions. Studies have shown that those who suffer from COPD tend to have a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications, which may lead to death due to an infection with the coronavirus. 11
In a US study, the COVID-19 and COPD death rate was 15%, higher than the average rate of 4% for those with COVID but without COPD. Because of these rates, people with COPD must take extra precautions to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus.
Should people with COPD get a COVID-19 vaccine?
It’s recommended for people with COPD to get a COVID-19 vaccine, as the presence of COPD strongly increases the possibility of severe illness if you get infected with the coronavirus. People that suffer from COPD are considered to be a high-risk group and should take preventative measures so that they do not get COVID-19. 12
Those with COPD are at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms and complications due to an infection with the coronavirus. The odds of surviving COVID-19 with COPD can vary depending on whether or not other risk factors are also present. Taking additional precautions to protect yourself against the coronavirus if you have COPD is strongly recommended. If you get infected, it's essential to contact your physician as soon as possible to start treatment.
Q: Can someone with COPD survive COVID-19?
A: Although mortality rates are higher for those with COPD, most people survive a COVID-19 infection, especially when they get early and proper treatment
Q: Is COPD a high risk for COVID-19?
A: COPD patients have a significantly higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19.
Q: How do you treat COVID-19 if you have COPD?
A: COVID-19 can be treated with antiviral medication that can be prescribed to you by your doctor after assessing your risk profile. It’s vital that therapy gets started as soon as possible.
Q: What is the relation between COPD and COVID-19?
A: COPD and COVID-19 are both conditions that affect the lungs. People with COPD already have lung tissue damage and immune system issues, so they're more likely to get severely ill due to COVID-19.