Frequently Asked Questions 

Our own Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rizzo answers frequently asked questions about COVID-19 from individuals living with chronic lung disease.

Want to learn more about the COVID-19 Vaccines? Visit out Vaccine FAQs

Have a question not addressed in our FAQ? Contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for one-on-one support, or submit your question online.

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General Information

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2), a type of virus that is novel, or new, to humans. Spread person-to-person when people sneeze, cough, sing, talk or even breathe, it carries the potential for mild to severe illness, which may include pneumonia and lung damage in some people who become infected.

People with serious underlying health conditions, such as chronic lung diseases (COPD, moderate-to-severe asthma, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension) serious heart conditions, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, pregnancy, sickle cell, overweight with a body mass index (BMI) over 25, individuals who smoke, and those who have weakened immune systems from solid organ transplant can make you more likely for severe illness.

Risk of severe illness from COVID-19 also increases with age. According to the CDC, people over age 85 are the most likely to get very sick and require hospitalization.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a type of coronavirus. Like all viruses, coronaviruses change constantly through mutation, resulting in new variants such as Omicron, which has been classified as a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organization. The CDC is closely monitoring this new variant, regularly posts updates when new information becomes available and has created a map to see where the variant strains have been identified within the United States.

The ways to protect yourself from coronavirus infection haven’t changed. You should get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you are able, and we encourage a booster if you are 18+. Continue washing your hands and stay home when you are sick. Until you are fully vaccinated, maintain social distance from others and wear a mask around those who do not live in your household. Remember that breakthrough infections are expected in fully vaccinated people. Vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

There are two kinds of tests available for COVID-19. A viral test that is usually obtained by way of a nasal swab or saliva tests for current infection. The two main reasons to get tested are if you’re having symptoms that could be COVID-19 or have been exposed to a person confirmed to have COVID-19. If you are high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, knowing you have tested positive will give you and your healthcare provider time to discuss treatment options that may reduce your risk of becoming severely ill. These results also become important in tracking contacts to decrease the spread of COVID-19. Contact your healthcare provider if you feel you should be tested and have concerns. You can learn more about testing for COVID-19 here.


Facemasks are recommended over face shields. Facemasks fit snugly against the face and provide better protection to prevent respiratory droplets from leaving your mouth and nose and potentially infecting another person nearby. Face shields are sometimes used in addition to face masks to add protection to the eyes. You can learn more on our blog.

There is enough evidence to support a widespread recommendation for double masking. Since Americans were first advised to wear a face mask, the following directions were included: have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric; cover both your mouth and nose and fit snugly against the sides of your face without gaps. The multiple layers of cloth with a snug fit help prevent the exchange of particles that could transmit SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. If wearing two masks helps you achieve these objectives, provides you additional peace of mind and doesn’t impair your breathing, then wearing two masks may be a good option for you to consider. Regardless of if you wear one mask or two, it is also important to stay six feet apart from those not living in your home, wash your hands, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated places to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Individuals who are asymptomatic have been exposed to the coronavirus but they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 so they don’t know they are infected. This is particularly troubling because if you are sick, you will stay home, but if you don’t know you are sick, you could spread the disease to others without realizing it. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19, maintaining at least six feet distance from others when in public and wearing a cloth face covering helps protect others in case you are an asymptomatic carrier.

Yes. The evidence is now clear that COVID-19 can be spread both by droplet and airborne aerosol transmission. Large droplets can be seen, for example when you exhale in cold weather, and they quickly fall out of the air. The smaller droplets that contribute to airborne aerosol transmission are lighter, can remain suspended for hours, and may travel across a room. 

This means that indoor, poorly ventilated buildings have the potential to spread disease if individuals from different households gather – even if they are wearing masks and at least six feet apart. Until you are fully vaccinated, you can reduce your risk of airborne transmission by being outdoors and in uncrowded indoor spaces with good ventilation. 

While secondhand smoke and secondhand e-cigarette (vaping) emissions are proven causes of a variety of lung health and other diseases, in the case of coronavirus the real danger is from the smoker. Secondhand smoke is of two types—side-stream and mainstream. 

Sidestream smoke comes off the lighted end of the cigarettes themselves and carries the toxins and carcinogens into the air to cause exacerbations of asthma and COPD and are known causes of lung cancer. Mainstream secondhand smoke is what is exhaled by the smoker after they puff. This smoke not only contains the toxins and carcinogens as above, but it also contains respiratory droplets from the smoker that may carry the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, not only are individuals potentially spreading virus by not wearing a mask, they are blowing these droplets to the people around them who may potentially get infected. I recommend maintaining social distance of at least six feet from individuals to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, including from individuals who are smoking or vaping.

With the exception of those who are fully vaccinated, people who have been exposed to the new coronavirus and who are at risk for coming down with COVID-19 should practice self-quarantine. Health experts recommend that self-quarantine lasts 14 days. Two weeks should provide enough time to know if they will become ill and be contagious to other people. Self-quarantine involves using standard hygiene and washing hands frequently, not sharing things like towels or utensils, staying home, not having visitors and staying at least six feet away from other people in your household, preferably in a separate room with a separate bathroom. Once your quarantine period has ended, if you do not have symptoms, follow your doctor’s instructions on how to return to your normal routine.

Guidance from CDC provides options to reduce quarantine, if in alignment with local public health officials. In some cases, and if you have not experienced any symptoms, you can end quarantine on day 10 if you have not been viral tested or on day 7 if you have been viral tested and you receive a negative test result that took place on day 5 or later.

Current guidelines recommend delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 is not gone, and I continue to recommend staying home as much as possible, especially if you or a family member are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and have not yet been vaccinated. If you are still weighing travel options, please consult the CDC recommendations for travel within the United States or internationally. You can also read our latest blog dedicated to travel during the pandemic.

High Risk Groups

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you are able is recommended, while recognizing that if you have a condition or take a medication that weakens your immune system you may not be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated, which now includes a recommended third dose. Anyone with a compromised immune system, which includes people with autoimmune disease, on chemotherapy or living with an organ transplant, should be more stringent on mask wearing and other preventive measures such as hand washing, social distancing and disinfecting. Additionally, you should contact your healthcare provider to determine an individual action plan based on your specific situation.

First, check out our steps to help yourself get used to wearing a cloth face covering in public. There are many different types of face coverings with a variety of fabrics, designs, straps and fits may make one mask more comfortable than another.

Individuals who are not yet vaccinated and living with chronic lung diseases may be asymptomatic (no symptoms) carriers of COVID-19 who can go on to infect others and should wear cloth face masks when in public areas. When my patients ask about not wearing a face covering, I review options with them and reiterate why wearing a mask is important to stop the spread of COVID-19. And I tell them if their lung disease is so severe that it makes breathing with a cloth face covering difficult then they are certainly at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and really need to remain home and distanced from others.

Being a current or former smoker increases your risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Generally speaking, both cigarette smoking and vaping are linked to lung inflammation, as well as reduced lung and immune function. Therefore, long-terms smokers and e-cigarette users will have a higher risk of developing chronic lung conditions and serious respiratory infections.

Air pollution can make the COVID-19 pandemic worse for some communities. Since it is a disease affecting the lungs, people who live in places with more pollution could be more vulnerable to severe illness.

Treatment and Medication

If you are sick with COVID-19, any treatments used should be prescribed by your healthcare provider. Many people with mild-to-moderate symptoms recover at home with supportive care, such as getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated. However, if you are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 you should speak with your healthcare provider about treatment options to help prevent you getting seriously ill. These treatments need to start soon after symptoms arise, and COVID-19 is confirmed to be effective. If you are admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, there are recommended treatments based on how sick you are. Read more about treatment options at

Pulse oximeters are not recommended for otherwise healthy individuals. They are indicated for individuals with lung or heart disease who may or may not receive supplemental oxygen as a way to monitor their need and/or adjust their prescribed oxygen therapy. You can read more about this on our blog.

Many individuals use a nebulizer to take inhaled medications at home and it is safe to continue doing so.

However, if you have suspected or diagnosed COVID-19, you should speak with your healthcare provider about additional precautions to take when using your nebulizer. Learn more about controlling chronic lung diseases during the pandemic.


It’s generally advised to continue taking your current medications to maintain optimal health. Having a poorly controlled chronic condition may put you at increased risk of severe illness. If you have any concerns about the medications you are currently taking they should be directed to your healthcare provider.


The lungs are a major target of COVID-19. When the virus is inhaled into the lungs, it invades the tissues, causing inflammation and breathing problems. If the infection gets worse, it can develop into pneumonia. In a small number of severe cases, patients can develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that will require them to be placed on a ventilator for oxygen. If too much of the lung is damaged and not enough oxygen is supplied to the rest of the body, respiratory failure could lead to organ failure and death. The recovery rate and complications from severe illness caused by COVID-19 will vary person to person but there may be some long-term damage to the lungs. Long lasting lung health consequences are still being studied.

Millions of Americans have recovered from COVID-19. Many of these individuals are experiencing symptoms long after the few weeks it takes most people to recover. Termed ‘long-haulers’ or experiencing long term or post-COVID long term symptoms, even people who were not hospitalized and who had mild illness may be experiencing longer-term symptoms. Learn more about Long-Haulers on our blog and join our online community to connect with others also Living with Long COVID.

Yes, I encourage you to consider doing this. When your body fought the infection, it created COVID-19 antibodies in your plasma, the disease-fighting part of your blood. Now your blood contains a tool that might help others also fight off the disease. You can learn more and find donation sites at on the FDA’s website.

While we don’t know yet what causes Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), we do know that many children either had COVID-19 or where around someone with COVID-19. This condition, which causes different body parts to become inflamed may also cause fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, a rash, bloodshot eyes and fatigue. For now, the best advice is for everyone 12 years old and up to be vaccinated as soon as possible and to support children in wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, washing hands and distancing from individuals who are ill. And I encourage you to be in contact with your healthcare provider regarding any new symptoms you or your children may develop.

Our Lung HelpLine is answering questions about COVID-19. Contact our Lung HelpLine by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA or submitting a question online.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: January 7, 2022

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