COVID-19 & COPD

Are people with COPD more likely to be impacted by COVID-19? 

People with COPD are not more likely to contract the virus. However, anyone with a chronic respiratory illness such as COPD, is at higher risk of experiencing more severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19. COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs) and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory failure.

What is the difference between a typical COPD exacerbation (flare-up) and symptoms of COVID-19? 

The symptoms of a COVID-19 infection and a flare-up of COPD can overlap in many ways. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are symptoms that are similar to both. You should inform your primary care provider and/or respirologist if your symptoms worsen to determine the best steps to be taken in the care of your COPD.

What extra precautions should someone with COPD take?

There are no extra precautions for you to take if you have COPD. You should follow the current recommendations to stay at home and leave for only essential reasons. If others can pick up groceries and medicines for you, it is recommended that you use their help. If you have to go out, make sure that you practice social/physical distancing which means staying at least 2 meters (6 feet) away from others.

Make sure that you continue your COPD maintenance medications. If you are currently prescribed a nebulized medication, speak to your doctor as to whether you should continue on this. Nebulization can spread the virus in your house and increase the risk of others getting the virus. 

What should I do if I am concerned about symptoms of an exacerbation (flare-up) or COVID-19? 

Revisit your COPD Action Plan If you agreed to start antibiotics and/or oral steroids upon early signs of an exacerbation, call your doctor to see if they would suggest initiating these medications. WHEN IN DOUBT CALL FIRST, unless you are in a life-threatening situation. 

What happens if I get COVID-19? Are there medicines? Will I have to be  hospitalized? 

There are no approved treatments specifically for COVID-19. Clinical trials are underway to test several existing drugs to see if they can be used to lessen the symptoms of COVID-19. And, there is a worldwide effort to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, but this likely won’t be available for 12-18 months.  

Many people with COVID-19 are able to recover at home, but ONLY your doctors can help you decide if you need to be in the hospital.  

Will COVID-19 make COPD symptoms worse in the long-term? 

There is not enough evidence specific to COVID-19 to predict how it will affect the long-term lung function and disease course for people with or without COPD.  Early data from China suggests COVID-19 can cause acute changes in lung function (not specific to people with COPD), but it is not known if they are permanent. The focus is on helping patients avoid exacerbations and address them early when they do occur, to minimize the long-term harm. Having a written action plan with your doctor can help.  

What Steps Should I Take to Prepare Now?  

  • Request an early refill or a 90-day supply of your medications where possible. 
  • Call your oxygen company to ensure regular deliveries can be made on-time. 
  • Purchase an oximeter or make sure yours is working.
  • Make sure you have a working fever thermometer. 
  • Plan for who will provide your care and services if you get sick AND if your caregiver or family member gets sick. 
  • Help family and caregivers understand what health changes in you they should  look for, and what they can do to help with your care.
  • Maintain healthy living habits, including exercise and eating well.

Should I Cancel Appointments?  

If the appointment is not medically necessary, consider cancelling until social distancing is no longer recommended. Ask your physicians or health care professionals whether your visit can be done by phone or computer using Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. 

Should I Stop Going to the Gym or Pulmonary Rehab? 

Yes. In most cases pulmonary rehabilitation programs are suspended. However, you should continue exercising at home or outside, but always at a 2 meter/6 foot distance from others. The COPD Pocket Consultant Guide Mobile App includes exercise videos, and there are several online resources available to assist you with exercise training. It is recommended you discuss the use of these tools with your physician prior to initiating a home program.

Should I cancel home health services? 

Consult your doctor to determine if the services you receive are medically necessary and if not, postpone further visits. If you require these services, caregivers should, generally, wear a mask and gloves while in your home. Disinfect frequently touched areas after the caregiver leaves.

If I must go out of the house or to work, what should I do?  

  • Keep 2 meters (6 feet) of distance between you and other people. 
  • PDF iconWash your hands with soap and water often or use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wipes.
  • If going to an appointment, have a plan. Call from the parking lot and wait to go in until they are ready for you.
  • Surgical masks are not recommended unless you are sick, as many patients have a hard time breathing with masks on. 
  • Avoid using medications while out unless medically necessary, if you need to, make sure that you PDF iconwash your hands or use hand sanitizer before using your inhaler.
  • If you use oxygen:
  • Regularly wipe down your tubing and canula with alcohol pads.
  • Use a fresh canula when you leave the house and wipe it down when you return. 
  • Don’t set your portable oxygen concentrator or tank down while you are out if possible, and be sure to wipe it down with alcohol pads when you return. 
  • Make sure you PDF iconwash your hands or use sanitizer before touching your tubing or canula. 
  • Bring an extra set of tubing in case yours accidentally falls onto the ground or another surface.

Remember social/physical distancing does not mean social isolation. Stay connected with family, friends and the community by phone, email, text, Facebook, Facetime, Skype or Zoom. Organize a family or community check-in.

Download an infographic for COPD patients:

PDF iconPDF Managing COPD_COVID-19 Infograph.pdf

Where do I find up-to-date information about COVID-19? 

NATIONAL - Canadian Government   

ALBERTA - Alberta Health Services , Alberta Government 

Page Last Updated: 17/05/2020