Doctors urge preventive care for asthma, allergy sufferers
Special to The Union
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology shares the following recommendations for anyone living with asthma and allergies:
— Continue or resume your asthma routine that helps you control your symptoms.
— Use short acting rescue medications as needed for symptoms.
— Follow your asthma action plan if you have one.
— Follow CDC guidelines regarding infection control, hygiene, social distancing, etc.
— If you have an upcoming appointment with your allergist, please call to confirm. Many allergists are using telemedicine for return appointments.
— Contact your doctor if you have questions about your medications or if your symptoms seem to be worsening or not under control.
For people living with chronic asthma and seasonal allergies, the outbreak of a pandemic linked to respiratory failure has been troubling, to say the least.
Balancing the need to seek care with a desire to prevent exposure has left many wondering when to see their doctor, what signs to watch for, and how best to continue to manage their condition.
Locally, family medicine physician Dr. Heather Lucas-Ross with Dignity Health Medical Group – Sierra Nevada says she is hearing this concern firsthand from her patients.
“I am seeing a typical volume of patient questions and concerns about asthma and allergies,” Dr. Lucas-Ross explains. “But I’m hearing an increased emphasis on when to worry if the symptoms are concerning for COVID-19 or what their particular risk category is for COVID-19 given their underlying conditions.”
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While many health organizations have cautioned that people living with asthma may be at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, new data from New York indicates that may not be the case.
In April, New York state, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, released data showing the top 10 chronic health problems suffered by people who died from coronavirus. Asthma was notably absent from the list. State officials said only about five percent of COVID-19 deaths in New York were of people who were known to also have asthma – a number that researchers concluded was fairly modest.
European researchers quoted in the journal Lancet cited similar numbers in Washington state, where a small study found that of 24 critically ill COVID-19 patients, only three had asthma.
While the news may be good regarding COVID-19 complications, doctors say a more pressing concern for those living with asthma and allergies right now should be staying on top of preventive care.
“Now is a good time to reach out to your primary care provider to confirm if you are due or overdue for necessary testing and monitoring,” says Dr. Lucas-Ross.
Concerns about COVID-19 have patients playing “catch up” with their asthma and allergy symptoms even more than usual.
“Even during a ‘normal’ spring, this is a classic time of year for patients to have flare-ups of asthma and allergies and only start or restart chronic preventive medications once symptoms are worsening,” she explains. “That makes it harder to control because then patients are playing ‘catch up’ and it is harder to regain control of these conditions or, worse, they can more easily turn into a severe episode or secondary infection like a sinus infection or bronchitis, or even pneumonia.”
Dr. Lucas-Ross encourages everyone living with asthma and allergies to take action now to prevent their condition from escalating.
“Take your preventive medications before symptoms get bad,” she says. “And notify your doctor when symptoms don’t resolve or get worse.”
She also recommends avoiding pollen whenever possible, including sleeping with windows closed and wearing a mask or some facial covering while doing yardwork, something that was recommended for allergy sufferers long before COVID-19.
She also says a nightly sinus rinse to flush out pollen and allergens that have been inhaled throughout the day can help prevent overnight sinus swelling and mucus production.
Most importantly, Dr. Lucas-Ross says now is not the time to skip caring for our health.
“Chronic medical conditions can sometimes deteriorate slowly enough that it can be hard for patients to see a change until the difference is severe. I have seen this a fair amount lately, even in the short time period of COVID-19.”
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