COVID-19 made it clearer than ever that breathing shouldn’t be taken for granted and lung health is getting some long-overdue national attention. But for those who live with asthma – a serious, chronic disease of the lungs that causes the airways to be inflamed and narrow – the constant concern over breathing is ever-present.
Approximately 25 million Americans have asthma, and the effects can be even more extreme for the 2.5 million suffering from severe asthma, a form of asthma requiring medium or high-dose inhaled corticosteroids combined with other longer-acting medications.1,2,3 The pandemic has stretched the already thin chronic respiratory services even thinner, further challenging patient health and care quality, while highlighting the much-needed improvements.
It is an especially timely moment to encourage Americans to consider the full picture of respiratory health: as the pandemic continues to fill hospitals across the country, the September Asthma Epidemic is likely to bring a spike in asthma-related hospitalizations. The third week of the month has been termed Peak Week, historically containing the highest concentration of asthma attacks all year, and we fear this year’s may be the most challenging on record.
The reasons for this are manifold. Respiratory clinicians staffed the front lines of the pandemic leaving asthma services as the fourth most disrupted of noncommunicable disease services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to list moderate-to-severe asthma as a chronic lung disease that can make you more likely to have severe illness from COVID-19. For those who have historically been hospitalized from severe asthma attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic has also added another layer of difficulty with limited ER space – thus increasing the fear around and need for control over asthma.
Beyond the pandemic, climate change has made the length and intensity of pollen season worse every year. Ragweed, the most common fall pollen allergy, peaks in September in the U.S., especially in the Eastern and Midwestern states. Mold counts rise as leaves fall from trees and collect outside. Children return to school and are exposed to respiratory illnesses in classrooms and social settings.
These risk factors only compound the year-round burden of living with severe asthma. Even performing day-to-day activities can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
Every year, people with asthma miss 5.2 million school days and 8.7 million workdays, contributing to an annual economic burden of more than $21 billion.4 We want to do everything we can to address this problem—and to ensure we are doing our part to keep as many people with asthma out of the hospital and living full lives.
Giving respiratory patients the tools to receive better care and understand their condition and its causes is an important first step. If you or a loved one are living with asthma, it’s important to take necessary precautions to understand your asthma severity and work with your doctor on a plan.
In addition to everyday tips like washing hands often and removing shoes before going indoors to avoid tracking pollen and mold, I encourage readers to consider the following this Peak Week:
- Determine how controlled your asthma is to help you manage Peak Week and beyond. Assess and record your asthma symptoms and how they affect your daily life. This can help you and your doctor understand your level of asthma control.
- Know your triggers and minimize contact with them. Identify your asthma triggers, such as pollen, dust, or pet dander, take your medicine at the earliest possible sign of worsening, and talk to your doctor about how to avoid them through lifestyle changes or medicine. Wearing a mask can help protect you from COVID-19 as well as reduce your exposure to many asthma triggers.
- Prepare for your next doctor’s appointment: Keep a running log of your symptoms, duration, and any triggers you can associate with an asthma attack. Bring this and any associated questions to discuss the management of your asthma with your primary care physician.
Today is the day to stop normalizing your daily struggles with asthma, especially if your symptoms are severe or uncontrolled. Work with your doctor to create an appropriate asthma management plan and visit BreakTheCycle.com to find out how.
Melanie Carver became Chief Mission Officer for AAFA in 2020. Previously, she served as Vice President of Community Health and Marketing. She leads the organization’s community and health programs, marketing and communications, education, and grassroots advocacy. Her career has focused on elevating community/patient engagement to improve health outcomes. She serves as Principal Investigator on several projects to tackle health disparities and is co-author of Asthma Disparities in America – A Roadmap to Reducing Burden on Racial and Ethnic Minorities.
The information on BreakTheCycle.com is provided by Amgen and AstraZeneca for educational purposes only.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Asthma. Available at: Most Recent National Asthma Data | CDC. Accessed August 18, 2021.
2. Wenzel S. Severe Asthma in Adults. Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 2005, 172: 149–60.
3. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Severe Asthma. Available at: Severe Asthma (aaaai.org). Accessed August 31, 2021.
4. Nurmagambetov T, et al. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2018;15(3):348-356.
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