A team of investigators at Rutgers University have found that asthma does not appear to increase the risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) or to influence the severity of the disease, according to a press release.

Factors such as old age, heart disease, high blood pressure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can all be risk factors for COVID-19. As a chronic respiratory disease, asthma has been considered a risk factor by many experts and clinicians.

“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 [severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2] than a non-asthmatic person,” said Reynold A. Panettieri Jr, MD, director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science, in a statement. “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.”

As a result of the belief that asthma increases the risk of COVID-19, Panettieri said many patients with asthma may become hypervigilant during the pandemic. Although the research suggested that asthma is not a risk factor, Panettieri said self-quarantining could help patients with asthma avoid seasonal triggers or respiratory viruses. According to the press release, some evidence has also suggested that patients are being more attentive to taking their asthma medications during the pandemic, which can help their overall health.

Inhaled corticosteroids, such as those taken by many patients with asthma, have also caused debate during the pandemic because they may weaken the body’s immune response and worsen the inflammatory response. In addition, steroids have also been found to delay the clearing of the severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome viruses. Based on these concerns, Panettieri said further research should explore these issues.

Perhaps most notably, age can be a major risk factor for COVID-19 and can influence asthma symptoms. Younger patients tend to have allergic inflammation as a result of their asthma, while older adults can also suffer from eosinophilic asthma, which is more severe. Patients with this form of asthma can experience abnormally high levels of a type of infection-fighting white blood cell, potentially making them more at risk for severe COVID-19.

Finally, Panettieri noted that asthma tends to be associated with fewer other conditions than COPD or cardiovascular disease. Although these other diseases may make people more susceptible to COVID-19, the researchers concluded that older patients with asthma and other conditions may have similar instances of COVID-19 as non-asthmatics with those conditions.

Asthma Does Not Seem to Increase the Severity of COVID-19 [news release]. Rutgers University; July 6, 2020. https://www.rutgers.edu/news/asthma-does-not-seem-increase-severity-covid-19. Accessed July 15, 2020.