Researchers considered the impact of other viruses, including influenza A and B, but found those viruses were waning by March 17. They didn’t research the impact of pollen, exposure to environmental allergens at schools or whether people were more consistently using their asthma medicines.
While overall patients experienced fewer significant asthma symptoms, two specific demographic groups did not. Black patients had a 70% increase in steroid prescriptions during this time and a higher percentage of care than they had before. Study authors said this should be a focus of future studies and efforts to improve quality of patient care. Medicaid patients saw a 63% increase in steroid prescriptions.
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes narrowing of airways, resulting in chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath. It affects 1 in every 12 children.
Dr. Shyam Joshi is an assistant professor of medicine in the section of allergy and clinical immunology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. He said in his area they are seeing much fewer urgent care or acutely symptomatic pediatric patients.
In addition to other measures, spring school closures likely played a big part in reducing exposure to rhinovirus and, therefore, asthma symptoms, Joshi said.
“We know that in very young patients that acute episodes of wheezing or coughing, shortness of breath, about 80% of those times are associated with an underlying viral infection,” Joshi said. “Avoiding rhinovirus is going to clearly improve these acute episodes of wheezing and difficulty breathing.”
In Baltimore, Dr. Corinne Keet, an associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said she also is seeing patients with fewer asthma exacerbations this spring and they’re self-reporting improved asthma symptoms.
Though viruses can be the most immediate trigger, allergic inflammation plays a key role in asthma symptoms. When they treat that first, patients don’t experience as many significant asthma symptoms, Keet said.
It’s too early to say what the upcoming flu season will be like, Keet said, but consistent hand-washing and mask wearing can help.
“It’s not just COVID that is reduced when we do all those things. All the respiratory viruses share those common transmission pathways,” Keet said. “Hand-washing, covering our faces, being away from other people reduce all of those things.”