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Smokers 10 times more likely to die of COVID-19, says pulmonologist

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Amarachi Okeh

A pulmonologist, Dr. Olusola Adeyelu, has urged smokers to take extra precautions to prevent getting infected with COVID-19.

According to Adeyelu, smokers are 10 times more likely to die of COVID-19 because they already have weak lungs.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, the pulmonologist who works with the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, stressed that the impact of COVID-19 is more devastating on smokers than even people with underlying illnesses.

Adeyelu who specialises in the health of the respiratory system said, “There are likely 10 times more chances of death of a smoker who contracts COVID-19 than a diabetic or hypertensive patient who contracts COVID-19.

“So, a smoker is at unquantifiable risk of dying – not just suffering from long hospitalisation – from COVID-19. It is an absolute and not a relative problem. It is absolute and I must reemphasise this,” he said.

Recall that the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus had during the last World No Tobacco Day warned that smokers have up to a 50 per cent higher risk of developing severe diseases and death from COVID-19.

Dr. Adeyelu explained that, unlike non-smokers, those indulging in smoking are at more risk of death because they lose the function of their lungs faster, noting that they lose about two millilitres yearly due to smoking.

“When you are above 30 and as you grow old you lose your lungs volume. What is meant by lung volume is the quantity of air in your lungs. It is a natural occurence.

“Non-smokers lose about one millilitre per year but a smoker loses between five to 10 millilitre volume of his lungs per year. This explained the level of risks that an individual will be exposed to when he smokes.

“So for smokers that lose five to 10 millimetres of their lung functions, they need not be told that if they are exposed to anything that further affects their lungs, they are more likely to die from such a complication,” he said.

Adeyelu stated that people who had stopped smoking are still susceptible to grave complications from COVID-19.

“Even if you have smoked and you stopped 20 years ago, you still have a higher probability of dying if you have a health issues that affect your lungs than someone that never smoked.”

Explaining how COVID-19 affects the lungs of a smoker, Adeyelu said, “COVID-19 creates solidification and lack of exchange of air and when you have already lost between 5 to 10 times of your air volume it becomes really impossible for you to exchange air. You are really at a higher risk than every other person”.

Adeyelu explained further that COVID-19 usually causes chronic inflammatory disorder, noting that the condition is more difficult for smokers to overcome.

“For smokers, it is double jeopardy because they have a rapid loss of lung volume and rapid rate of chronic inflammation. 

“Chronic inflammatory disorder like how? When you dig a well and you put a ring inside it, the ring makes the well look beautiful but it has reduced the width of that well so the state of chronic inflammation reduces the width of the blood vessels and makes the blood vessels very weak,” he said.

However, he noted that despite the high risk of complications that smokers face while battling COVID-19, individual variations could play a role in altering the outcome of the virus.

“Nothing can reverse their negative outcome except individual variations which science may not be able to predict. It is a chance, you may be lucky, you may not be lucky,” the pulmonogist said.

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