For a lot of the pandemic, people with asthma and chronic lung diseases have lived in fear not only of catching the virus, but also worried how people looked at them when their regular symptoms presented.
Now that communities are opening up and restrictions dropped, anxiety levels in these patients are only rising.
According to respiratory physician and founder of Manse Medical, Dr Andrew Bradbeer, a conservative estimate would be that 10 per cent of the Australian community may experience non-COVID respiratory symptoms of a whole family of diseases such as hay fever, allergic rhinitis to bronchiectasis, chronic sinusitis, and nasal allergies - as well as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, interstitial lung diseases or pulmonary fibrosis.
"And for those with symptoms due to a lung disease, part of the first stage was the fear of others looking at them wrongly if they had respiratory symptoms in public," Dr Bradbeer said.
"People were scared of those who coughed in public or looked like they could have COVID and just not be letting anyone know.
"They might be out there exhibiting some symptoms and not wearing a mask and feeling socially kind of unwanted.
"I've certainly heard stories about that, people who have encountered strangers who have been quite willing to say nasty things to them in public," Dr Bradbeer said.
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People with COVID might have a dry cough and asthmatics can get that as well.
But, that's often not the sort of coughing that you're going to get particularly upset about. It's the person with the more nasty and productive sounding cough that you might say that might get nasty looks from people in the cafe, but in fact, that's not going to be COVID.
"So not only is there the fear of being within the higher risk category for contracting COVID along with the stigma of having symptoms - on top of that, these patients often found it a bit difficult to wear a mask in public if they're having a bad day with their symptoms or are exercising," Dr Bradbeer said.
Now in 2022 we are in a new stage where it's clear that the vaccines have been incredibly effective at protecting our community from severe disease and reducing symptoms in those who contract COVID.
Almost everybody knows someone who has had COVID now. But as masks come off and workers return to the CBD, those with asthma and chronic respiratory diseases still face judgement from others because of their symptoms.
Now they need to both be careful about getting COVID exposure as well as being careful about their asthma management, whilst mixing in places where there's a lot of very close social contact and as we have seen, lots of judgement from strangers.
"So on the one hand there's an awful lot of respiratory viruses around in the community again, and there is a lot of COVID around, which is a virus you'd rather not catch.
"But on the other, we all should be able to get out and associate with people and not be treated prejudicially because someone has respiratory symptoms," Dr Bradbeer said.
- In partnership with HealthShare, a digital company working with doctors to improve access to medical information online. Submit health questions and find answers at healthshare.com.au.
The story Mask protection and symptom suspicion in the age of COVID first appeared on The Canberra Times.