Higher Risk For Smokers During COVID-19 Outbreak? Experts Answer
“Young smokers are at the same COVID-19 risk level as non-smoker older people”, says expert.
This is not the first time smokers are being warned and it definitely won't be the last. However, we are in the midst of a pandemic, and the warning: Smoking is Injurious for You, takes on a whole new meaning.
The correlation established between smoking and COVID-19 by the experts and pulmonologists sends out a sense of urgency. More so because the healthcare system across most parts of the world is already heavily burdened as everyone is trying to grapple with the disbalance between available facilities and a rising number of cases.
In given circumstances, quitting smoking or cutting down can not only help smokers build a better defense against COVID-19 but also allows them to take responsibility on an individual level to not burden the health systems.
Lungs, once damaged, can't fully recover, but the sooner you quit, the better it will be for the health.
WHO & CDC on Smoking and COVID-19 Correlation
Top bodies, WHO and CDC too have warned smokers. World Health Organisation, while answering if smokers and tobacco users are at a higher risk of COVID-19, says,
“Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase the risk of serious illness”.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its preliminary report has said that smoking might put you at higher risk for death from COVID-19. CDC reached this conclusion after analysing data from confirmed cases in all 50 states and four US territories between 12 February and 2 March.
What Do Studies and Doctors Say?
The American Lung Association on March 27 said, "An important step to immediately improve your health and possibly avoid the most serious symptoms of this scary disease is to consider quitting smoking and vaping."
A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in the early weeks of coronavirus spread, after considering the data of 1,099 COVID-19 patients in China, found that out of 173 patients who had severe symptoms, 16.9% were current smokers and 5.2% were former smokers. Out of 926 people who had less-severe symptoms, 11.8% were current smokers and 1.3% former smokers.
Further, the study also observed that in a group of patients who were critically affected, needed ventilation or eventually died, 25.5% were current smokers.
In a recent study by researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, it is observed that air pollution is also linked to significantly higher rates of death in people with COVID-19. This study is important to consider when we talk about smokers and lung capacity as parallels between smoking and increased pollution levels are often drawn by the experts.
“An increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate”, concludes the study.
FIT spoke to Dr. Nevin Kishore, one of the senior Pulmonologists in Max Hospital. He tells us,
"Smoking causes Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which is damage to lung at the alveolar level. That is where the exchange of air happens. COVID-19 patients are also getting affected at the same level. Understandably, those who already have damaged alveolar levels due to smoking will face difficulty fighting any bacteria or COVID-19. Even a smaller amount of the virus will create more symptoms in smokers than in people with healthy lungs."
Dr Kishore also points out that smoking affects health in many other ways at the non-lung level too. It damaged the immunity in general, he says.
"Young smokers are at the same COVID-19 risk level as non-smoker older people", he adds.
He further adds,
“With compromised lung health, smokers are at a higher risk of suffering from the disease as well as succumbing to it.”
How Quitting Smoking Now Will Help Smokers?
Anything that ensures better immunity and lung health will be beneficial in the fight against COVID-19. Here are a few reasons why quitting or cutting down smoking now will be good for the health -
Provide strength to the lungs
As per the CDC, "Within two weeks of quitting, you might notice it’s easier to walk up the stairs because you may be less short of breath".
Provide strength to the immune system
CDC says when you quit smoking, your immune system is no longer exposed to tar and nicotine thereby making it stronger.
Decrease Heart Risks
CDC confirms that quitting smoking can lower blood pressure and heart rate almost immediately. It will also give heart, less work to do as blood will be thin and move easily without creating clots.
Lower the risk of diabetes
CDS says that quitting smoking will reduce belly fat and lower the risk of diabetes. However, if one already has diabetes, quitting can help them keep blood sugar levels in check.
All of the aforementioned conditions when already worsened, increase the severity of COVID-19. Thus, there is a direct correlation between smoking and COVID-19 symptoms.
Smokers can indeed resort to healthier coping mechanism during this self-isolation phase.
The need is now, more than ever.
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