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COVID-19 and Asthma: We Were Wrong

Overview and Implications

When COVID-19 first became a major public health concern, the view regarding the pandemic and lung conditions such as asthma was as follows: the coronavirus has the morbid ability to lead to lung inflammation whereas other viruses can lead to harmful asthma attacks. However, Juliet Isselbacher, a writer of the Health section of STAT News, suggests that it may be more complicated than that. One new study involving hospitals suggests that asthmatic COVID-19 patients are not more likely to be hospitalized due to the pandemic when compared to non-asthmatic COVID-19 patients. This shocked the scientific community as many, including researcher Dr. Gayatri Patel of Northwestern University, expected COVID-19 to be far more exacerbated in individuals suffering from conditions associated with asthma such as breathing problems and wheezing. But, there is even more to the situation if risk levels of different types of asthmatics are considered.

Asthmatics can generally be broken down to those suffering from allergic asthma or non-allergic asthma; symptoms of asthmatic attacks worsen for those with allergic asthma when exposed to allergens such as pollen, whereas the triggers are exercise, cold weather, etc., for those suffering from non-allergic asthma. Nevertheless, a study conducted that utilized data from U.K. Biobank discovered that non-allergic asthma, unlike allergic asthma, greatly worsened individuals’ likelihood of being diagnosed with COVID-19. Researchers are trying to determine the scientific reasoning for this but one potential theory deals with ACE2 inhibitors of lung cells. If the coronavirus enters the lungs through the ACE2 inhibitors, extreme harm can be caused to the cells and tissues that are important for the uptake of oxygen. A research study points to one possibility of there being a lower amount of ACE2 inhibitor expression in those who suffer from allergic asthma; if this is true, the research would suggest that those with allergic asthma may be less susceptible to attack from the coronavirus. Dr. Jonathan Spergel from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states that “Allergic asthma may actually decrease the rate of infection” (Isselbacher, 2020).

But something else that should also be considered is the medication that is required for asthmatics to consume. A study by Dr. Patel described that one’s usage of corticosteroids does not increase or decrease, greatly, an asthmatic’s likelihood of being diagnosed with and ultimately being hospitalized due to COVID-19. This is extremely important because asthmatics can now be reassured that the inhaled corticosteroids that they are quite comfortable with do not heighten the risk of being infected with COVID-19.

Concerns Raised by the Article

It was noted that only 9% of the total population of the U.S. is made-up of asthmatics; but, asthmatics made-up 14% of the COVID-19 individuals that were a part of one of the studies. Dr. Spergel suggests that the explanation may be as simple as the fact that asthmatics might experience COVID-19 symptoms, such as breathing problems, more frequently, and are more inclined to undergo coronavirus testing. Additionally, Dr. Patel noticed that African Americans were found to have unexpectedly high rates of suffering from asthma and also severe COVID-19. She exclaimed that more research in the issue of disproportionality needs to be done to see if other underlying conditions, for example, are more prevalent in African Americans as that may explain why they are dying from coronavirus infections at greater rates. These racial and socioeconomic disparities are further explored under our COVID-19 research review section.

Article Reviewed

Isselbacher, J. (2020, July 1). Does asthma raise Covid-19 risk? Research points to complex connection. STAT News.

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