Individuals diagnosed with emphysema at high risk for COVID-19 complications

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on July 21st, 2020

People who struggle with emphysema are considerably more susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms of the new virus, as they have underlying lung problems and a weak immune system. Furthermore, they also have a great chance of developing health complications if they become infected with the coronavirus, which may be fatal.

The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading throughout the world at a fast pace, with over 3 million diagnosed cases and more than 134,000 deaths at the moment. While everyone is susceptible to contracting the new virus, there are certain demographics that are at high risk of developing serious health complications if they become infected. These groups of people include patients suffering from emphysema, a lung disease that currently affects 3.5 million individuals in the U.S.

Why are emphysema patients with lung damage caused by long-term asbestos exposure at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications?

People who struggle with emphysema have poor lung function and a weak immune system which means that a possible infection with the novel coronavirus is significantly more likely to manifest severe symptoms. Furthermore, the risk of complications such as respiratory system failure and even other organ failures is also higher, since the lungs of emphysema patients are extremely damaged.

Investigators found that patients who exhibited chronic breathlessness were about four times more likely to have COVID-19 complications and almost seven times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than their peers who did not exhibit breathing troubles. Emphysema is characterized by breathlessness during physical exertion secondary to the destruction of the gas-exchanging tissues of the lungs, resulting in abnormally large air spaces.

It is worthy of note that the vast majority of people who suffer from emphysema are between the ages of 40 and 60, which could also be considered a risk factor. The most common symptoms of infection with SARS-COV-2 are a persisting cough, fever, and shortness of breath, but it may also cause an inability to stand up, chest pain, and confusion if health complications are taking place. However, the symptoms of infection with the new virus are very similar to those of emphysema, as the former also targets the respiratory system, which makes distinguishing between the two health issues very difficult.

If you experience a new onset of symptoms or if the symptoms you already have worsened, please seek medical attention immediately, as you may have contracted the virus. Left untreated, coronavirus can prove fatal, particularly if you are over 60 and have underlying lung diseases.

The connection between emphysema and asbestos exposure

The causes of emphysema are tobacco smoking, air pollution, and exposure to toxic substances such as asbestos. A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos is classified as a known carcinogen by multiple national and international health organizations. When asbestos fibers become airborne, people unavoidably inhale harmful particles, which may lead to the development of emphysema or other severe lung diseases within 20 to 50 years of the first exposure. During the last century, there were many occupations in which asbestos use was regular, including:

Therefore, people who had one of these jobs before 1980 are now at high risk of receiving a diagnosis of emphysema.

The novel coronavirus can lead to massive respiratory tract damage and fatal lung failure in patients with emphysema

People infected with the coronavirus may be left with permanent damage to lung tissue and lung capacity. Doctors are reporting growing numbers of people who still have breathlessness and lingering coughing months after recovery from COVID-19, and whose chest scans show evidence of irreversible lung scarring.

Early data suggests COVID-19 can cause acute changes in pulmonary function - not specific to people with emphysema - and that can cause lasting damage to the lungs that may necessitate surgery or even organ transplants. According to the health care providers, the focus should be on helping patients avoid exacerbations and address them early when they do occur, to minimize the long-term harm.

What steps you should take to prepare if you are a patient with emphysema?

Patients with emphysema may be at risk for decreased access to medications during the pandemic because of the global shortages of many classes of inhaled medications. Quarantine restrictions have also disrupted the supply chain and therefore, have likely contributed to reduced patient access to much-needed therapies for patients with emphysema.

If you are currently prescribed a nebulized medication, speak to your doctor as to whether you should continue on this, as nebulization can spread the virus in your house and increase the risk of others getting the virus.

Special precautions you should take if you have emphysema:

  • request an early refill or a 90-day supply of your medications where possible
  • call your oxygen company to ensure regular deliveries can be made on-time
  • purchase an oximeter or make sure yours is working
  • make sure you have a working fever thermometer
  • plan for who will provide your care and services if you and family members get sick
  • maintain healthy living habits, including exercise and eating well

Emphysema patients with a history of asbestos exposure eligible for financial compensation

It is important to know that if your emphysema diagnosis is a result of occupational asbestos exposure, you can recover financial compensation for your physical and emotional suffering. Our attorneys, who specialize in this area of practice and who have been pursuing asbestos exposure cases for the last 30 years, will provide you with the legal assistance you need to file a claim with the asbestos trust funds of the companies which manufactured the products you were exposed to on the job. If you are a veteran, we will also file a claim with the VA, as they offer financial compensation in asbestos exposure cases as well.

If you decide to seek compensation, your attorney will expedite your claim to recover the money you need as soon as possible. The financial compensation you will eventually receive will help you afford superior healthcare and treatment, so taking legal action in this respect is absolutely worth it.