Coronavirus: What to Know if You Have a Respiratory Disease

If you or a loved one are living with a chronic lung disease or other respiratory condition, you may be wondering how Coronavirus (COVID-19) could affect you. Below, doctors Louis R. DePalo and Andrew E. Esch share tips and answer frequently asked questions.*

Tips to Keep Yourself Safe*

Since COVID-19 is still a new virus, doctors are learning more every day. Here’s what Dr. DePalo recommends that patients and families do to protect themselves:  

  • Take precautions: Practice proper handwashing, social distancing, cleaning surfaces, and not touching your face. Here’s a more thorough list of precautions from the American Lung Association. 
    • Here’s how to effectively wash your hands: start by washing with warm or cold water, then lather the soap for 20 seconds and rub it around the backs of your hands, between fingers and under your finger nails before rinsing.
  • Screen people who come into your home: Ask if they’re feeling sick, have had a fever, or traveled to an identified “hot spot”. Also be sure to ask if they’ve had contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19. 
  • Be prepared: Discuss with your doctors whether you should have any specific medicine on hand in the event that you do become sick and can’t leave the house (e.g. steroids for asthma). 
  • If you feel sick, stay home and call your doctor. If you have symptoms such as a fever, cough, chest tightness, sore throat, or shortness of breath, your doctor will want to know. Instead of going straight to the doctor’s office or hospital, call ahead. This will help your medical team decide how best to help you, such as letting you know what to do and where to go. 

Frequently Asked Questions*, answered by Dr. Esch*

Is COVID-19 a respiratory disease? 

COVID-19 is a viral infection that can affect multiple organ systems. While it is not a respiratory disease, those with the virus who require hospitalization may develop lung complications, such as pneumonia.

If I have an underlying lung disease, am I more susceptible to catching COVID-19? And would I become more ill because of my lung disease?  

Like the seasonal flu, older adults and those with existing medical conditions may be at a higher risk for more severe symptoms. This includes chronic lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), and interstitial lung disease. Since there is a higher risk, it is very important to practice social distancing, and avoid public places when possible.

Make sure to pay attention to any possible symptoms that are different from what is ‘normal’ for you — fever, cough, chest tightness, sore throat, or shortness of breath, and communicate with your family and medical team. Be sure to take your routine medicine as directed, and be mindful not to run out.

I am having shortness of breath. What should I do?  

For any symptoms that feel out of the ordinary, call your doctors. They will decide whether you need to be tested, and any next steps.

How do I protect myself from COVID-19? 

Watch this webinar from the American Association for Kidney Disease with advice about COVID-19 from an expert with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. There’s information for dialysis and transplant patients, what you should be asking your medical team, and more. The American Lung Association has also put together these recommendations


Dr. Louis R. DePalo, MD, is a pulmonary medicine doctor at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Dr. Andrew E. Esch, MD, MBA, is acting vice president of education at the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

*This is not meant to serve as medical advice. Please reach out to your medical team for advice and any questions related to you or your loved one. 


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