Smoking and COVID-19

April 28, 2020

Written by: Dr. Claire Steves

Smoking may put you at a higher risk for COVID-19, here’s why. Dr. Claire Steves, Senior Clinical Lecturer at King’s College London and her research team share the latest findings.

We all know COVID-19 affects the lungs, and that lung function is affected by smoking.  Importantly also we know that smokers have less elastic lungs which means that they might be more at risk if they get severe disease. Surprisingly, there have been only five studies to date, all from China, on how smoking relates to risk of COVID-19.  The largest of these looked at just over 1000 patients.

Thanks to all the COVID Symptom trackers, we now have data on 1.5 million people from all over the UK.  In this data, smoking significantly increases the risk of self-diagnosed COVID-19 given classical symptoms (fever and persistent cough) by about 26%.  Other studies indicate the risk of severe disease is probably even higher.  

So what should we do about this?  It’s hard quitting smoking at the best of times, but maybe this is the right time.  Stopping smoking might not change the structure of the lungs if they are damaged, but it quite quickly changes inflammation levels and elasticity, which mean that the flow of oxygen into the blood is significantly more efficient within weeks.  That could be critical for getting over COVID-19. When is there going to be a better time to stop?

If you or one of your loved ones is going to quit, it's a good idea to get a form of nicotine replacement.  I wouldn’t suggest vaping, as there is some evidence that might also not be good, but patches, gum or inhalators work really well.

Dr. Claire Steves is a Consultant Geriatrician at Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust and Clinical Senior Lecturer at King’s College London.

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