Although preliminary studies and data seem to show that asthma is not among the greatest coronavirus risk factors, those with the respiratory condition should still take extra precautions to avoid contracting the illness.
Asthma was not included in a list of the most common secondary health conditions among coronavirus patients of any age group, according to recent data released by the New York Department of Health, which includes information on over 12,000 coronavirus cases statewide.
Hypertension and diabetes were the two most commonly seen health conditions, and the list also included coronary artery disease, dementia, cancer and stroke. Obesity has also been found to be one of the highest risk factors among severe cases.
Across the state, people who had asthma accounted for about 5 percent of coronavirus-related deaths, according to The New York Times.
A small observational study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine also stated that out of 24 critically ill patients in Seattle, only 3 people had asthma — and European researchers have also noted the “lower reported prevalence” of the respiratory condition, in another observational study published in Lancet.
However, while these initial statistics are “reassuring,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with the Allergy & Asthma Network, urges against developing a “false sense of security.”
“I would take this data with a grain of salt as it is based on weeks rather than months or years of data like we have for other illnesses,” Parikh tells PEOPLE. “It is reassuring as we were concerned for all patients with chronic lung disease, but asthmatics should still be vigilant.”
Specifically referencing the two observational studies, Parikh cautioned that “data may change as we learn more” about the virus. The doctor also noted that a sample size of 24 patients is “not large enough to extrapolate to entire populations.”
As for why the statistics concerning asthma are so low, Parikh believes multiple factors could be at play.
“One reason for lower incidence could be stay at home orders that have kept asthmatics away from their triggers and possible exposure to COVID-19,” she said. “Also, asthmatics may be more vigilant in taking precautionary measures.”
“There may also be an underreporting as many asthmatics are currently staying home to recover and avoiding emergency rooms,” the doctor added, noting that even in a hospital setting “when patients come in to the hospital critically ill without family members, the hospital team may not realize it is an asthmatic and thus cases may be missed.”
Although current data does not seem to suggest a direct link between asthma and risk of infection, those with asthma could still be at a greater risk of developing more severe symptoms.
Parikh also tells PEOPLE that individuals with asthma should “stay home and avoid leaving the house unnecessarily” — and to “wear a mask (homemade is fine) if you absolutely do need to leave your home.”
“Ten people die on a daily basis in the US from asthma even outside of a pandemic so never take your breathing lightly,” Parikh added, going on to stress that people should also “stay on your controller/preventative medications as uncontrolled asthma is far more likely to have bad outcomes than controlled asthma.”
The CDC and the World Health Organization have also warned that people with asthma “may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19,” as the respiratory illness can “cause an asthma attack, and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.”
In addition to following current social distancing guidelines, the CDC recommends that those with the condition continue taking all of their current medications, stock up on an “emergency supply” of inhalers, and make sure all commonly-touched household items and surfaces are routinely cleaned and disinfected.
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