Frequently Asked Questions
Our own Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rizzo answers frequently asked questions about COVID-19 from individuals living with chronic lung disease.
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Have a question not addressed in our FAQ? Contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for one-on-one support, or submit your question online.
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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2), a type of virus that is novel, or new, to humans. Spread person-to-person when people sneeze, cough, sing, talk or even breathe, it carries the potential for mild to severe illness, which may include pneumonia and lung damage in some people who become infected. For more information visit, learn about COVID-19.
People with serious underlying health conditions, such as chronic lung diseases (COPD, moderate-to-severe asthma, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension) For a full list of high-risk conditions visit Learn about COVID-19.
Risk of severe illness from COVID-19 also increases with age for people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. According to the CDC, people over age 50 are the most likely to get very sick and require hospitalization.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a type of coronavirus. Like all viruses, coronaviruses change constantly through mutation, resulting in new variants such as Omicron, which has been classified as a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organization. The CDC is closely monitoring this new variant, regularly posting updates when new information becomes available and has created a map to see where the variant strains have been identified within the United States. Learn more about COVID-19 variants by reading our latest blog.
The ways to protect yourself from coronavirus infection haven’t changed. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines, wash your hands, keep distance from sick people and avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces to help prevent infection.
The three main reasons to get tested are if you’re having symptoms that could be COVID-19, have been exposed to a person confirmed to have COVID-19 or need to test for travel, work, school or are visiting an individual who is high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19. If you are high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, knowing you have tested positive will give you and your healthcare provider time to discuss treatment options that may reduce your risk of becoming severely ill. These results also become important to decrease the spread of COVID-19 to your loved ones and community members. Contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns. You can learn more about testing for COVID-19 here.
Individuals who are asymptomatic have been exposed to the coronavirus but they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 so they don’t know they are infected. This is particularly troubling because if you are sick, you will stay home, but if you don’t know you are sick, you could spread the disease to others without realizing it. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and wearing a high-quality face mask in areas with high transmission helps protect others in case you are an asymptomatic carrier. You can learn more about preventing COVID-19 on our website.
Current guidelines recommend delaying travel until you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines. Your destination may have different COVID-19 restrictions in place so be sure to check that out before you leave home. Wearing a mask is still recommended on airplanes, buses and in transit centers like airports. Consider getting tested before and after your trip.
Do not travel if you feel sick or have COVID-19 symptoms, it has been less than 10 days since you tested positive for COVID-19, you are waiting on test results or you are recommended to quarantine because of close contact with someone who tested positive.
If you are still weighing travel options, please consult the CDC recommendations for travel within the United States or internationally.
High Risk Groups
Keep up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccination, including your initial series, potential third dose and booster when eligible. Anyone with a compromised immune system, which includes people with autoimmune disease, on chemotherapy or living with an organ transplant, should be more stringent on mask wearing and other preventive measures such as hand washing, social distancing and disinfecting. Additionally, you should contact your healthcare provider to determine an individual action plan based on your specific situation.
Being a current or former smoker increases your risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Generally speaking, both cigarette smoking and vaping are linked to lung inflammation, as well as reduced lung and immune function. Therefore, long-terms smokers and e-cigarette users will have a higher risk of developing chronic lung conditions and serious respiratory infections.
Air pollution can make the COVID-19 pandemic worse for some communities. Since it is a disease affecting the lungs, people who live in places with more pollution could be more vulnerable to severe illness.
Treatment and Medication
If you are sick with COVID-19, any treatments used should be prescribed by your healthcare provider. Many people with mild-to-moderate symptoms recover at home with supportive care, such as getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated. However, if you are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 you should speak with your healthcare provider about treatment options to help prevent you getting seriously ill. These treatments need to start soon after symptoms arise, and COVID-19 is confirmed to be effective. If you are admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, there are recommended treatments based on how sick you are. Read more about treatment options at Lung.org/treating-covid.
Pulse oximeters are not recommended for otherwise healthy individuals. They are indicated for individuals with lung or heart disease who may or may not receive supplemental oxygen as a way to monitor their need and/or adjust their prescribed oxygen therapy. You can read more about this on our blog.
Many individuals use a nebulizer to take inhaled medications at home and it is safe to continue doing so.
However, if you have suspected or diagnosed COVID-19, you should speak with your healthcare provider about additional precautions to take when using your nebulizer. Learn more about controlling chronic lung diseases during the pandemic.
The lungs are a major target of COVID-19. When the virus is inhaled into the lungs, it invades the tissues, causing inflammation and breathing problems. If the infection gets worse, it can develop into pneumonia. In a small number of severe cases, patients can develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that will require them to be placed on a ventilator for oxygen. If too much of the lung is damaged and not enough oxygen is supplied to the rest of the body, respiratory failure could lead to organ failure and death. The recovery rate and complications from severe illness caused by COVID-19 will vary person to person but there may be some long-term damage to the lungs. Long lasting lung health consequences are still being studied.
Some people who had COVID-19 continue to experience a wide variety of health problems for weeks, months or years after becoming initially sick. Also called post-COVID conditions or chronic COVID, these symptoms don’t affect everyone the same way and can be difficult to diagnose or treat. Learn more about Long COVID and join our Living with Long COVID online community to connect with others.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: May 4, 2023