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Respiratory diseases and coronavirus

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a coronavirus. It can cause complications for people with pre-existing respiratory diseases, whose lung function is often already impaired.

Viral infection results in lung inflammation. Since it is a viral disease, antibiotics cannot be used to fight it.

COVID-19 is a new infectious disease, which means that researchers make new discoveries about it all the time. According to the current understanding, the average incubation period for the disease is 4–5 days, but it can range from 2 to 12 days.

Symptoms include cough, fever, related muscle soreness and headaches, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, and loss of smell and taste. The intensity of these symptoms varies from person to person. Symptoms do not reveal whether the respiratory infection was caused by the coronavirus or some other virus or bacteria. Testing is the only way to be certain. During the epidemic, it has turned out that people with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all have passed the disease on to other people.

The current estimate is that recovery takes from days to weeks, depending on how severe the disease is. People with a severe form of the illness usually need to go to hospital in the second week of illness as their symptoms get worse.

The current understanding is that people who have had the coronavirus infection become immune to it. It is not known how long this immunity lasts, meaning that it is possible to catch the disease again. However, it is not known whether the second infection will be severe or not.

If you are worried about the coronavirus

We are living in exceptional circumstances, and it is normal to feel sad, confused, afraid, or angry. If you need low-threshold crisis support, contact the crisis helpline of Mental Health Finland on 09 2525 0111.

Respiratory disease flare-ups do not include symptoms like fever, diarrhoea, muscle soreness, or loss of smell and taste, which are typical coronavirus symptoms. A mild cough or shortness of breath, on the other hand, could be caused by either. COVID-19 does not cause wheezing. The cough is usually dry, not wet.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether you have caught a respiratory infection or whether your pre-existing respiratory condition is getting worse. People with long-term pulmonary diseases are usually able to tell the difference.

People with pulmonary diseases should take their basic medication according to their doctor’s orders. It is a good idea to check that there is enough medicine at home to last a month. So far, there has not been any shortage of inhaler medicines. The Organisation for Respiratory Health and Filha encourage people with respiratory diseases to take the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines.

People with pulmonary diseases should take care of their general state of health and resistance to diseases. Regular exercise is essential for the treatment of respiratory diseases.

If you suffer from asthma, for example, and suspect that it is getting worse, you should increase your asthma medication and bronchodilator medication. A spacer is recommended for taking asthma medicines that come in spray form, especially when the asthma is getting worse.

Difficult flare-ups can also be prevented with neti pots and effective allergy treatment. People suffering from COPD should pay attention to mucus removal by, for example, doing PEP bottle exercises. For PEP bottle instructions, see our section on mucus removal exercises. Exercise is another way of boosting the removal of excess mucus from the airways.

If these methods do not help, a doctor can prescribe oral cortisone treatment for you remotely over the phone or online. 

In terms of COVID-19, well-controlled asthma is a relatively insignificant risk factor. People suffering from asthma could get away with mild coronavirus symptoms.

If possible, you should use your CPAP machine even when you are sick with the coronavirus. The CPAP machine will prevent apnoea-related pauses in breathing and the resulting lack of oxygen at night. If you have the coronavirus, it is important that you get enough oxygen.

Using the CPAP machine may increase the risk of transmitting the coronavirus to other people in the household. If one family member requires a CPAP machine and has caught the coronavirus, they should be isolated from the rest of the family, to the extent that this is possible. 

If you have sleep apnoea and the coronavirus and are hospitalised, you should take your personal CPAP machine with you. While the CPAP machine cannot be used to treat respiratory insufficiency, it does help with the apnoea-related pauses in breathing.

To reduce the risk of infection, the hospital can put a patient who needs a CPAP machine in a separate room.

There is no benefit to using the CPAP machine while awake, even during a coronavirus infection. The upper respiratory tract is always open while awake. Breathing is the most shallow during sleep. This is why the CPAP machine specifically treats pauses in breathing during sleep.

For more information about COVID-19 and sleep apnoea, visit the TYKS website.