Study finds asthma may not raise risk of severe COVID-19

For months, Brent Godfrey worried about what might happen if he contracted COVID-19.

The 60-year-old lawyer and amateur athlete has asthma, which has flared and landed him in the hospital twice over the last two or three years.

Once, Godfrey says, he nearly died.

So, when he read on the CDC's website people with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 he says, Godfrey says he was pretty terrified.

"I thought that because the CDC said so, that being an asthma patient if I did catch the virus, I would probably be one of the guys that doesn't make it," Godfrey says.

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That may not be the case, says Dr. Fernando Holguin, director of Asthma Clinical and Research Programs at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and pulmonologist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Holguin led a study that looked at research data from 15 other studies of COVID-19 infections in people with asthma.  

His team found the airway disease may not be as high-risk as first thought.

"Asthma is not likely something that raises the risk of having severe pneumonia from COVID," Holguin says.

The researchers also reviewed information on hundreds of patients hospitalized at UCHealth with COVID-19.

"We found those patients with asthma, about 12%, were not more likely to have to go to the ICU to be put on a ventilator," Holguin says.

So, why would an airway disease like asthma that can be exacerbated by colds and flu viruses not also cause coronavirus complications?

Holguin says there are two related theories.

Because of airway inflammation, he says, people with allergic asthma may have fewer ACE2 receptors on the cells that line the respiratory tract.

It is the same thing with people who use inhaled corticosteroids to manage their asthma: they seem to have fewer of these ACE2 receptors.

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The receptors allow the virus to grab onto the cells and get into the body.

So, having fewer receptors leaves the virus with less to hang onto to get inside the cells.

For Brent Godfrey, who has read Holguin's study cover to cover, the findings are a relief.

"He's got me convinced that just because you have asthma, doesn't mean you're at higher risk," Godfrey says. 

Holguin says if you have asthma, use the same precautions health officials recommend.

"You can go outside," he says. "Use your mask. Keep social distancing.  But, you shouldn't be paranoid that you can't go anywhere."

If you use medication to manage your asthma, keep using it as prescribed, as we head into cold and flu season.

Those viruses can hit people with asthma much harder.

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