As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to make its way through the world and into our communities, many people fear they might catch the illness. However, contrary to what you may have heard, the elderly population and those with underlying health conditions are not the only people who are susceptible to COVID-19. According to Mayo Clinic pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist Dr. Neal Patel, smokers also may have an increased risk of becoming very sick if they catch the virus.
Patel says smokers are more at risk because smoking weakens the lungs’ natural defense mechanisms. This is true for people who smoke e-cigarettes and use marijuana, as well. According to Patel, smoking damages the cilia in the lungs – tiny follicles that help trap viruses and move them up and out of the respiratory system. Without those defense mechanisms in place, fighting off a variety of illnesses – from the common cold to COVID-19 – becomes much more difficult.
So far, similarities in patients who have died from contracting COVID-19 include the presence of preexisting conditions such as cancer, diabetes and, of course, respiratory issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, ranging from heart and lung disease to diabetes, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Because of the damage to the immune system that smoking causes, experts say non-smokers have a chance of bouncing back more quickly from coronavirus than people who smoke.
As new information about COVID-19 is being discovered by researchers, experts at the Mayo Clinic say everyone is at risk for catching the illness, so it is very important to continue to follow CDC health guidelines, such as avoiding large crowds, covering your mouth and nose when you cough, and washing your hands as often as possible. And while quitting smoking definitely can be a challenge, the CDC says many people who currently smoke report that they want to quit the habit permanently. With an outbreak such as COVID-19, and the risks the virus could pose for some smokers, the Mayo Clinic says there is no better time than now to begin your journey to quitting.