Take extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season.
With the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and the start of flu season, it's important more than ever to be aware of Asthma Peak Week and the September Asthma Epidemic. Keep your asthma under control, avoid your triggers, and take precautions to avoid catching COVID-19, the flu, and other respiratory infections.
Every September, asthma hospitalizations rise. Doctors see more people with asthma episodes and attacks. The third week of the month is the worst. It is called the September Asthma Epidemic or Asthma Peak Week.
Everyone with asthma needs to take extra precautions during September. This is especially important as emergency rooms and hospitals are full due to the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Children tend to be the most affected during the month. But that doesn’t mean adults aren’t at risk. Parents and grandparents can be affected too.
As we head into Asthma Peak Week, it’s important to know if your asthma is under control, how to avoid getting sick and what to do if you do get sick.
Why Does Asthma Peak in September?
September is the perfect storm for people with asthma and allergies. Ragweed, the most common fall pollen allergy, peaks in September in the United States. Mold counts go up as leaves collect outside. Children return to school and are exposed to respiratory illnesses. Flu season is starting, and currently, the coronavirus is still spreading.
With these happening at the same time, you are exposed to a lot of asthma triggers. This can make it hard for you to keep your asthma under control.
How Can I Stay Healthy During September?
The best way to deal with illness or asthma attacks is to prevent them before they begin.
- Stick to your Asthma Action Plan. Take your long-term control medicine as prescribed by your doctor. If you move into the Yellow Zone of your plan, take action early so you can get back in the Green Zone.
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine. Three options are available now – Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty), Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The COVID-19 shots can reduce your chances of having more severe illness and being admitted to the hospital.
- Get the flu shot. The yearly vaccine is available now. It takes two weeks to take effect in your body, so get the shot as soon as it’s available – usually in September.
- Talk with your doctor about getting the pneumococcal vaccine. You get the shot once and then get a booster later if you need it. You do not need this shot yearly. It helps prevent pneumonia and other illnesses.
- Wear a mask. They not only help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but they reduce the spread of other respiratory infections and your exposure to pollen. Have your children over 2 years old wear masks too. Studies from 2020 have shown that children had fewer asthma-related emergency room visits thanks to face masks, along with other preventive steps.1,2
- Practice steps to avoid getting sick. Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, and nose. Stay away from people who are sick.
- Avoid your asthma triggers. If you are allergic to ragweed or mold, take steps to reduce your exposure to those allergens:
- Remove shoes before entering your home.
- Keep your windows and doors closed during peak pollen times.
- Use a CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® air filter on your home’s furnace/heater.
- Cover your hair when you got outside, or shower and wash your hair before bedtime. Consider using a saline nasal rinse.
- Talk with your allergist about possible treatments for your allergies.
- Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, stay hydrated, and eat well. Take action to keep your stress levels down.
- Work with your doctor to make sure your asthma is under control.
How Do I Know If My Asthma Is Not Under Control?
If your asthma is well-controlled, you have a better chance of recovering faster or avoiding complications from an illness. It’s important to know if your asthma is under control, especially as the coronavirus, the flu, and other respiratory illnesses are spreading. Keep the Rules of Two® in mind:
- Do you take your quick-relief inhaler more than two times a week?
- Do you awaken at night with asthma more than two times a month?
- Do you refill your quick-relief inhaler more than two times a year?
- Do you measure your peak flow at less than two times 10 (20%) from baseline with asthma symptoms?
If these apply to you, talk with your doctor.
Also, If you are taking oral corticosteroids (OCS – such as prednisone) two or more times per year, ask your doctor about other options. OCS can have serious, long-term side effects. Some of them may include osteoporosis (brittle bones), diabetes, and cataracts.
Your doctor may run more tests or have you try other treatments. Biologics are a type of treatment used to treat severe, uncontrolled asthma that may reduce the number of asthma attacks you have and reduce the need for OCS. Biologic treatments are given as shots or infusions every few weeks. The treatment targets and blocks a cell or protein in your body that can inflame your airways.
What If I Get Sick Anyway?
No matter how hard you try, sometimes you still get sick. As soon as you become sick, contact your doctor. The sooner you treat the illness or asthma episode, you have a better chance of keeping it from getting worse.
- Contact your doctor as soon as possible once you realize you are sick. If you think you may be contagious or have COVID-19, call your doctor first to avoid spreading the illness to others.
- Tell your doctor all the symptoms you are having and how long you have had them.
- If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19 or the flu or are having symptoms of either, share that information with your doctor. Stay home to reduce the risk of spreading illness to other people.
- Let them know what medicines you have been taking and how often – including prescription and over-the-counter.
- Follow your new treatment plan, if your doctor gives you one. Asthma can be serious and you may need a course of OCS to fight the inflammation and help you breathe.
- Get plenty of rest. Drink water and eat healthy foods. Continue to avoid your asthma triggers.
- Know your Red Zone signs on your Asthma Action Plan. If you move into the Red Zone, contact your doctor right away or go directly to the emergency room.
If you get sick with a respiratory illness, don’t ignore it or try to push through it. That can make your asthma harder to get under control if you get to the point where you need emergency treatment. It can also have serious consequences.
Good asthma control year-round is key to staying healthy during September. Stick with your treatment plan, avoid your triggers, and pay attention to your asthma control. Then next year, you’ll be better prepared to face Asthma Peak Week.
1. Sheehan, W. J., Patel, S. J., Margolis, R., Fox, E. R., Shelef, D. Q., Kachroo, N., Pillai, D., & Teach, S. J. (2021). Pediatric asthma exacerbations during the COVID-19 pandemic: Absence of the typical fall seasonal spike in Washington, DC. The journal of allergy and clinical immunology. In practice, 9(5), 2073–2076. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaip.2021.02.008
2. Simoneau, T., Greco, K. F., Hammond, A., Nelson, K., & Gaffin, J. M. (2020, December 4). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Pediatric Emergency Department Utilization for Asthma. Retrieved from Annals of the American Thoracic Society: thoracic.org/about/newsroom/press-releases/resources/peds-er-asthma-visits-and-covid.pdf
Rules of Two® is a federally registered trademark of Baylor Health Care System. Used with permission.
Medical Review September 2018.
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