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Preparing for asthma attacks during a pandemic

Image of a woman in a blue shirt using an asthma inhaler. (Photo by Getty Images)
Pushan Jani, MD, says every year toward the end of September and into October, he sees a significant uptick in asthma-related hospitalizations as various pollens such as ragweed and mold hit the air. (Photo by Getty Images)

Cooler weather, pumpkins, and falling leaves – all things that kick off the most wonderful time of year, the holiday season. But for asthma sufferers, this could mean trouble because experts see an increase in asthma attacks toward the end of September.

Pushan Jani, MD, MSc, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), has tips on how to avoid asthma attacks and possible hospitalization during a pandemic.

“There are two different types of asthma flare-ups. First you have those who suffer asthma year-round, and then there are some people who have seasonal asthma, which is triggered by different allergens and pollen in the air. This time of the year increases the attacks for seasonal asthma and can make those who suffer from persistent asthma control worse,” Jani, a pulmonary oncologist with UT Physicians, said.

Jani says every year toward the end of September and into October, he sees a significant uptick in asthma-related hospitalizations as various pollens such as ragweed and mold hit the air.

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways, making it difficult to breathe. It impacts nearly 25 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With flu season starting, COVID-19 still here, and an increase in pollen in the air, these three respiratory illnesses could be a recipe for disaster. To avoid landing in the hospital due to an asthma attack, Jani suggests doing the following to prepare:

  • Monitor local weather channels or the Air Quality Index (AQI) for pollen counts. “If you know what type of pollen triggers your asthma, stay up to date with weather channels and apps that can help you determine whether or not you should be out. If the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, 101-150, the AQI recommends that asthma patients reduce or limit the time they spend working or doing activities outside,” he said.
  • Stock up on any medications or inhalers needed to control flare-ups.
  • Get an allergy test. “If you are unaware of what triggers these attacks, get tested. This will help pinpoint what you should look out for to avoid a huge attack and possible hospitalization,” Jani said.

In addition to these steps, Jani says it’s important to know the early symptoms of an asthma attack: severe shortness of breath, excessive coughing, difficulty talking, and chest tightness.

“Ideally, we would like for patients to have good control of their asthma year-round. We are going into the time of year where we see an increase in asthma-related cases, and we are still in the middle of a pandemic. We hope now more than ever that patients understand why it is especially important to have these triggers under control to avoid visits to the hospital,” Jani said.

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