Managing COPD During the COVID-19 Pandemic

(StatePoint) Managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is always important, and especially so right now, as individuals living with a chronic lung disease are at a higher risk of severe illness and complications from COVID-19. However, misinformation about COVID-19 has made it hard for people with chronic conditions to determine how to stay safe.

Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, is providing answers to common questions that the millions of Americans affected by COPD may have.

Q: What additional steps should I take to prevent becoming ill with COVID-19?

Because COVID-19 is a new disease in humans, our immune systems haven’t yet developed defenses against it and there’s currently no vaccine. The best way to avoid illness, regardless of age or health status, is avoiding exposure to the virus.

For individuals living with COPD, stringent adherence to safety precautions is vital. Stay home as much as possible. When in public, maintain social distance of at least six feet, wear a cloth face covering and encourage others to do the same. Also, wash your hands often and clean, then disinfect, frequently touched surfaces.

Q: How can I maintain control of my COPD during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

COPD control is especially vital right now in case of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Continue controller medications for COPD to maintain lung health. To limit potential exposure to COVID-19, find out if mail-order pharmacy options are available to you, and if your insurance allows, secure a 90-day supply of prescription medications. Don’t delay important visits or ignore flare-ups or new symptoms. COPD complications can become serious if left untreated. If telemedicine isn’t an option, bear in mind that doctor’s offices have adopted new safety practices during in-person visits.

Q: Should I continue to use my nebulizer at home?

Taking medication correctly is a major component in successfully controlling chronic lung diseases. In certain areas, there have been reported shortages of metered dose inhalers (MDIs) due to increased demand in healthcare settings. Nebulized therapy continues to be a safe, effective way to take inhaled medications at home during the pandemic, though special steps should be taken if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Some patients find that nebulized therapy is more affordable. Talk to your physician if you have concerns about affording your prescribed medications or delivery options. Also, visit Lung.org/nebulizers to access video tutorials on proper nebulizer use and maintenance.

Q: What additional precautions should I take if I have suspected or confirmed COVID-19? 

If you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, maintain home isolation to protect other household members. This includes the following additional safety precautions when using your nebulizer:

• Wash your hands before and after treatment.

• Use your nebulizer in an area that minimizes potential exposure of aerosolized droplets to other household members. You might consider an outdoor patio or porch, or a room indoors where the air is not recirculated throughout the house and nobody else will enter for 1-2 hours, which is long enough for the droplets to no longer be airborne.

• Clean and disinfect your nebulizer.

Your healthcare provider will work with you on when you can discontinue home isolation and resume normal nebulizer use. Contact them at the first sign of new, severe or concerning respiratory symptoms for a home treatment plan. While most people recover from COVID-19 at home, having COPD elevates risk for severe symptoms. Seek emergency care for the following symptoms: trouble breathing, pain or pressure in your chest, development of a bluish tinge to your lips or face, and new confusion or inability to wake or stay awake.

Q: Where can I find trusted information?

You can trust the American Lung Association to provide science-based information and resources. Visit Lung.org or call 1-800-LUNGUSA for more information about COPD, COVID-19, nebulized therapy or any other respiratory topic.

Development of this educational resource is supported by Theravance Biopharma.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the American Lung Association

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