Scientists unsure why asthma sufferers aren’t at greater risk for severe COVID-19 infection

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Previous findings link COVID-19 severity to preexisting cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Oddly, however, people with asthma aren’t more likely to contract the virus nor are they more likely to have severe symptoms.

In a new editorial published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers at Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science discuss this puzzling finding and explain a number of factors that may keep people with asthma safe from severe COVID-19 infection.

“Older age and conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and obesity are reported risk factors for the development and progression of COVID-19,” says Reynold A. Panettieri Jr., a pulmonary critical care physician and director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science, in a statement. “However, people with asthma — even those with diminished lung function who are being treated to manage asthmatic inflammation — seem to be no worse affected by SARS-CoV-2 than a non-asthmatic person. There is limited data as to why this is the case — if it is physiological or a result of the treatment to manage the inflammation.”

Asthma sufferers tend to be younger

COVID-19 infection is more common and more severe in older adults. On the other hand, people with asthma tend to be younger than those with other conditions like heart disease, COPD, or obesity. Thus, it is possible that age may explain why asthmatics are not at greater risk for severe COVID-19 infection.

However, scientists have not yet examined this possibility. Future age-adjusted studies may determine whether age can explain the lack of association between asthma and severe COVID-19 infection.

Asthma medications may protect against COVID-19

Doctors often prescribe inhaled corticosteroids for prevention and treatment of asthma attacks. While it is possible that corticosteroids could protect asthmatics from severe COVID-19 infection, previous studies show that corticosteroids can reduce the body’s immune response and enhance its inflammatory response — which would likely worsen outcomes.

Future studies are necessary to determine if there is a link between asthma medications and COVID-19 infection. Researchers must also investigate whether this link differs depending on the type of medication.

Pandemic may have triggered lifestyle changes that improve asthmatics’ health

The onset of the pandemic may have forced a number of lifestyle changes among asthmatics, including enhanced personal hygiene and adherence to social distancing protocols. Social distancing among asthmatics could improve health given that self-quarantining can reduce exposure to seasonal allergy triggers and respiratory viruses.

Moreover, according to recent studies, the pandemic has enhanced medication adherence among asthmatics. Thus, better diligence in taking asthma medications during the pandemic may improve asthmatics’ overall health.

People with conditions such as heart disease, COPD, and obesity, tend to have many additional health conditions that could render them susceptible to severe COVID-19 infection. In contrast, those with asthma tend to have fewer associated health conditions, which may make them less susceptible.

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