Coronavirus and living with a lung condition - Institute for Respiratory Health

Coronavirus and living with a lung condition

Female nurse consults with woman about lung health

On this page, we explain the things you need to know about coronavirus if you live with a long-term lung condition. We explain how you can reduce your risk of catching COVID-19, how your usual care may be affected and the things we should all be doing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

  • What is COVID-19?
  • Your risk of becoming ill with coronavirus
  • Reducing your risk of catching COVID-19
  • Should I wear a face mask?
  • Getting tested for COVID-19
  • Help if you’re feeling worried

If you have a pre-existing lung condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease you may be particularly concerned about the current COVID-19 situation. For example, you may feel that you are at a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 than someone who does not have an underlying lung condition and that you might not recognise the fact that you are infected with COVID-19.

You may also feel that you are now more susceptible, either to acquiring it, and/or suffering a more severe form of disease if infected. Whilst there are some preliminary data to suggest that having asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) do not represent significant risk factors for becoming infected by the coronavirus, studies show that once infected, the chances of developing serious, rather than mild, disease are increased.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is short for COronaVIrus Disease 2019. It is a disease that affects the lungs and airways. The coronavirus infection can cause symptoms similar to flu: 

  • a new continuous cough – you have started coughing repeatedly
  • high temperature – you feel hot to the touch on your chest or back
  • loss or change in your normal sense of smell, sometimes called anosmia – this can also affect your sense of taste, as the two are closely linked.

For most people the symptoms are mild. But some will develop severe breathing problems and other complications. The evidence so far shows that the risk of severe symptoms is higher in people with weakened immune systems, older people and people with long-term conditions, including some long-term lung conditions

Your risk of becoming ill with COVID-19

Different factors affect your risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. Having a long-term lung condition is one of them. But it isn’t the only factor that increases your risk. Age is the biggest risk factor, with those aged 80 and older at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.

Everyone is different, and your own level of risk depends on different factors. This makes it difficult to give blanket advice about the level of risk from having a lung condition.

Coronavirus vaccines have been developed, which are all very effective. Research has shown that fully vaccinated people are three times less likely to be infected with coronavirus. Read more about the coronavirus vaccine.

Reducing your risk of catching COVID-19

We should all be doing what we can to prevent the spread of coronavirus to help protect ourselves and others. This includes:

  • get vaccinated – book in to receive your COVID-19 vaccination and booster
  • follow the public health guidance provided by the Department of Health
  • meet outside where possible
  • keep doors and windows open if you’re meeting people inside
  • book a PCR test if you develop symptoms
  • wash your hands often, using soap and warm water, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • wear a face mask, if you can, in crowded and enclosed places
  • practise physical distancing
  • stay at home if unwell and get tested.

Should I wear a face mask?

We strongly encourage everyone to wear a face mask, if they can, in enclosed and crowded spaces. Wearing a face mask reduces the risk of spreading infection and protects people you come into contact with. Follow the Department of Health’s guidelines on wearing a face mask.

Getting tested

If you think you have the coronavirus you can take a rapid antigen test (RAT) at home, it provides a results within 15-30 minutes. RAT kits are available for purchase from supermarkets, pharmacies and other selected suppliers. Every WA household is eligible for five free RATs. To register for your free tests visit (external site). People who cannot register online or need assistance can contact 13 COVID (13 26843) to place their order.

For more information about RAT tests visit Healthy WA.

Help if you’re feeling worried

It’s understandable to be feeling worried or anxious, especially if you live with a long-term lung condition. But if you’re feeling like you’re struggling to cope, you should speak to your doctor or healthcare professional. They’ll be able to offer you advice on things you can do to help you cope, and in some cases offer you treatment to help you feel better.

Here are some tips to help you look after your mental health:

  1. If you’re feeling anxious, or worried about the borders being open and increased numbers of the coronavirus, remember health professionals are working tirelessly to help those in need and everyone is doing their bit to stop the spread of the virus.
  2. Choose reliable media outlets to get accurate updates about the coronavirus and limit negative coronavirus news consumption.
  3. Stay connected – don’t let social distancing turn into emotional distancing. Stay in touch with your friends and family through regular phone chats, or use Facetime or Zoom.
  4. If you need support from others who are in the same situation as you, please get in touch with LIFE – a support group created for those with lung disease.
  5. Focus on keeping yourself well physically – there’s lots of great exercises you can do around the house. Keeping active has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing.
  6. If you think you have coronavirus symptoms refer to our FAQ section to see what you should do next.
  7. If you have situation where you are finding it difficult to breathe contact your doctor straight away, or call 000.
  8. Involve your friends and family, including your children, in plans to keep well.