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Love Your Lungs Week – how does COVID-19 affect our lungs

Love Your Lungs Week 2020

Author: Daniel Sharpe-Szunko

Today marks the beginning of National ‘Love Your Lungs Week’ from the British Lung Foundation. This year it’s more relevant than ever due to the increased risks for people with lung conditions due to COVID-19.

If you suffer from a lung condition and you need help, you could visit https://www.blf.org.uk/take-action/campaign/loveyourlungsweek for more information.

There’s lots of support available for people living with lung conditions, including online tools and communities. You can also join the conversation on social media to share your thoughts and views.

Online tools: https://www.blf.org.uk/technology-for-lung-health

Communities: https://healthunlocked.com/blf

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/britishlungfoundation/

Twitter: @lunguk

Still relatively little is known about this new disease which has caused over 230,000 deaths worldwide and affected more than 3.2 million people.

How does Coronavirus affect people with lung conditions?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease which is the same as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Flu or a common cold. This means that the lungs are the first organs to be affected.

Symptoms at early stages include a high temperature, shortness of breath and a persistent cough. These symptoms can appear almost immediately after exposure to the virus, or as long as 14 days later.

A high temperature or fever is on the top of the list of symptoms, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. However, not everyone who contracts the disease display a raised temperature. Research shows that around *70% of patients hospitalised did not have a fever.

Coughing is the most common of all symptoms, according to research by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Approximately **68 to 83 percent of their patients with COVID-19 had this symptom.

Other symptoms include 11-40% were suffering with shortness of breath, and in some cases, patients were confused, had headaches, nausea and diarrhoea.

As we have seen from the government bulletins, symptoms can range from extremely mild with no symptoms to potentially fatal. Early data from China suggested that ***81% of cases were mild and the rest were high risk.

Elderly people who had already been diagnosed with chronic medical conditions are at greater risk.

This variance also shows how the disease (COVD-19) can potentially damage the lungs.

In a report by ****The Lancet, it was identified that people may only have minor respiratory symptoms. Other people with the disease may also develop non-life threatening Pneumonia. However, there’s a smaller group of people who developed severe lung damage.

It has also been suggested that in patients who were severely ill, they were showing a condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

ARDS isn’t just related to patients with COVID-19. There’s a number of other events that can trigger it, such as sepsis or trauma.

Damage is caused to the lungs where fluid leaks from tiny blood vessels inside the lung. This fluid then gathers in the air sacs (alveoli) which in turn makes it difficult for the lungs to transfer oxygen from the air to our blood.

Still, relatively little is known about the damage caused to the lungs by COVID-19, however it’s suggested to be similar to SARS and MERS.

A more recent study consisting of 138 people who were hospitalised with COVID-19, difficulty breathing happened after 5 days, ARDS then developed after approximately 8 days.

ARDS is treated using supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilation, which is specifically to increase oxygen levels in the blood. According to experts, there’s no specific treatment for ARDS, this is purely to support the patient through the process. The body is then allowed to heal naturally and to build the immune system against the event.

Something which has been identified with COVID-19 patients, is that large numbers of them had potentially fatal low levels of blood oxygen. This has caused some confusion amongst experts as the patients did not appear to be starved of oxygen. Some experts are now rethinking where ventilation is the best cause of action.

How has COVID-19 impacted life insurance underwriting for lung conditions?

Currently there are a number of insurance providers in the UK ad globally who are restricting life cover terms for certain respiratory conditions. Our research suggests that a handful of insurers currently won’t consider offering cover for lung conditions or would postpone until more is known about the disease.

After several months we are still seeing restrictions in place by almost all insurers in the UK. Limits range from Body Mass Index (BMI) to chronic conditions such as Asthma, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Auto-immune Disease.

Currently it is suggested by a number of insurers that the limits will only apply to a small percentage of the population.

What if I already have life insurance and I get Coronavirus?

If you already have a life insurance policy in place then that should have already been accepted based on your health at the time. You should ensure that your cover is sufficient for your current needs, such as mortgage, children or funeral expenses.

Will life insurance pay-out for Coronavirus?

Life insurance with all mainstream or high street insurers will not exclude causes of death, such as COVID-19 related symptoms. The only exclusion which normally applies to new life insurance policies is suicide in the first year or two years, which is common.

What about if I’ve got a respiratory disease and I need life insurance?

In most cases it is still possible to get life insurance for people with respiratory conditions, such as Asthma, Bronchitis or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

There are some instances where the respiratory disease is more severe, where life cover may be postponed for a period of 6 to 12 months. This simply means that your cover will be offered to you after COVID-19 risk has dropped or a vaccine has been released.

If you need more help or guidance and what to do about your life insurance then you can call our team of experts on 0800 009 6559 or visit https://iaminsured.co.uk/.

Sources:

*JAMA Network https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2765184

**Clinical Course and Epidemiology https://covidprotocols.org/protocols/clinical-course-and-epidemiology/

***CCDC Weekly http://weekly.chinacdc.cn/en/article/id/e53946e2-c6c4-41e9-9a9b-fea8db1a8f51

****The Lancet https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30374-3/fulltext