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Living with Lung Disease? 5 Things to Know About COVID-19

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Many people feel anxious and fearful about the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that is sweeping the nation — and people living with chronic lung disease may fear COVID-19 more than most.

As a nurse practitioner in our Lung Center, I see many concerned faces among our patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis and other lung conditions, which is understandable.

I want to provide some steps to help you stay safe from the coronavirus and to get help quickly if you notice early signs and symptoms of the disease. Here’s what you need to know.

Jump to:

  1. Know How COVID-19 Spreads
  2. Prepare Your Household
  3. Know Your “Normal”
  4. Focus on Your Well-Being
  5. Seek Out Support


1. Know How COVID-19 Spreads

If you know how the coronavirus spreads, you can take steps to help reduce your risk. According to the CDC, the coronavirus causing COVID-19 spreads:

  • Between people in close contact (about 6 feet apart or less) through the saliva or mucus of an infected person coughing or sneezing near another
  • Possibly by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth, which may transfer the virus to your body
  • Possibly by asymptomatic people in close contact with uninfected people

Because you have a chronic lung disease, you need to follow the CDC’s general guidelines on how to avoid contracting the coronavirus. But you also need to take a few additional precautions. I recommend the following:

  • If you use oxygen, wipe down the tubing and cannula with alcohol regularly, or at least once a day.
  • Take extra tubing and cannulas with you when you go out. Discard any tubing or cannula that touches the ground or floor.
  • Avoid setting your portable oxygen concentrator or tanks on the floor or any other surface. Instead, try to hold these devices on your lap or attach them to a wheelchair, if you use one. If you pull a portable tank caddy, be sure to wipe it (and all of your oxygen equipment) down with disinfecting cloths as soon as possible after returning home.

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2. Prepare Your Household

Because you might need to stay at home as much as possible for weeks to come, you should take some steps to help you and your family live as comfortable as possible during this time.

Here’s how you can prepare your home:

  • Stock up on essential supplies like grocery staples
  • Refill prescriptions
  • Identify local agencies or resources that can be of use, such as grocery or prescription delivery services
  • Create a plan for what to do if you or someone else in your household gets sick
  • Keep important phone numbers handy, including the Temple Lung Center

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3. Know Your "Normal"

It’s important to emphasize that even if you’re diagnosed with coronavirus, you will not necessarily need to be hospitalized.

You can identify potential signs and symptoms of COVID-19 by comparing new symptoms to your normal experiences of COPD or pulmonary fibrosis — including what a normal exacerbation looks like).

Know your normal:

  • Levels of oxygen use
  • Types and frequency of coughs you experience
  • Resting oxygen saturation numbers
  • Usual level of shortness of breath
  • Frequency of rescue inhaler use

Then evaluate any changes and report them to your care team. Watch for changes like:

  • Increased reliance on oxygen
  • Increased coughing or a new type of cough
  • Lower-than-usual resting oxygen saturation numbers
  • Increased shortness of breath, as compared to your normal
  • Increased use of rescue inhalers
  • Fever, including a low-grade fever of 99°F

If you experience any of these potential signs of COVID-19, call your pulmonologist to discuss what you should do.

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4. Focus on Your Well-Being

Chronic lung diseases affect both your physical and emotional well-being. Adding a layer of uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic can cause added anxiety or feelings of hopelessness.

Keeping as active as possible and focusing on your emotional health can help you cope better during this stressful time. Try these strategies:

  • Continue to exercise as much as possible
  • Get outdoors for fresh air and sunshine while avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from other people
  • Devote time to games, puzzles, crafts or hobbies
  • Eat healthy
  • Get plenty of sleep

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5. Seek Out Support

Living with a chronic lung disease such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis during the COVID-19 outbreak can add a great deal of stress to your life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with practical tasks like grocery shopping.

Stay connected with friends and family digitally. Talk frequently by phone, engage in video chats, and share photos and videos with each other to maintain that personal connection that is so important to your mental well-being.

Of course, you also can call your doctor with any questions related to your health. By maintaining all of these important connections, you can weather the pandemic with a minimum of added stress.

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Susan Estrella-Eades, MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC

Susan Estrella-Eades is a pulmonary nurse practitioner at the Temple Lung Center.

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