Are smokers at higher risk of getting Covid-19 infection? Here’s what expert says

Survey found an increased risk of testing positive for COVID 19 among e-cigarette users.

By Dr. Chandril Chugh,

Covid infections are leading to lung damage. Multiple studies are suggesting lung damage due to inflammation and accumulation of fluid in the lungs, The corona virus is targeting the lung tissue leading to decreased compliance which impairs lung expansion and breathing. As more and more data is pouring in, we are seeing that lung damage is slow to recover although it is too early to say if the damage is permanent.

Patients with abnormal CT scans and damage to the lung tissue seem to have prolonged symptoms even after they turn negative for Covid infection. There is shortness of breath, coughing and difficulty performing activities of daily living. The inflammation due to infection and the body’s own immune response leads to lung damage which leads to fibrosis which is simple words is a lung that is stiff and doesn’t expand with air. Clinicians have noticed that patients with comorbidities like diabetes, cardiac diseases tend to have more lung damage probably due to reduced immunity or inherent weakness caused by the diseases itself.

Can lung damage from this virus be reversed in any way? How likely is an infected person able to recover and regain lung function?

Current treatments are effective in reducing the amount of initial damage, reducing the severity, aimed at reducing the amount of propagating injury and the duration. Depending on the severity of respiratory inflammation and damage, as well as patient comorbidities, duration of injury and genetics, patients can see improvement in their lung function. Analogous to having pneumonia, over time, patients’ lung function can recover. Looking at previous experience with SARS and MERS coronaviruses, studies following patients after developing pulmonary fibrosis showed that pulmonary lesions diminished primarily in the first year after recovery. In cases of severe inflammation, the challenge is with the development of pulmonary fibrosis. Chronic inflammation has been considered as the main cause of pulmonary fibrosis and may lead to epithelial damage and fibroblast activation. Studies are ongoing that test antifibrotic agents.

Are smokers at higher risk?

In a recent national cross-sectional online survey of those ages 13-24 years old conducted in May 2020, they compared e-cigarette users to non-users. They found an increased risk of testing positive for COVID 19 among e-cigarette users. Those who used cigarettes and e-cigarettes were seven times more likely, compared to those with only use of e-cigarettes who were five times as likely as non-users. In the same study, those who were overweight or underweight were at two and a half times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19.

The reasoning is proposed to be secondary to heightened exposure to nicotine and other chemicals that can cause lung damage; the repeated touching of one’s hands to mouth and face; and sharing devices, which is also popular among users.

Quitting smoking has many benefits and now there is one very persuasive reason to quit. Smokers, when compared to others, stand a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. When COVID-19 affects such persons, the recovery process may get delayed or they are likely to develop lung-related issues such as reactive airway diseases such as cough and breathlessness as a result according to WHO, millions of smokers were motivated to quit after listening to these risk factors.

(The author is Director at Dr. Good Deed Patna. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult health experts and medical professionals before starting any therapy or medication. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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