For children with asthma, more time spent at home and putting on masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic could help relieve emergency symptoms, new research shows.
The emergency department (ER) at Boston Children’s Hospital saw a sharp drop in asthma-related emergency visits last spring. This coincided with an increase in coronavirus cases amid a lockdown ordered by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on March 24.
“Our most significant finding was the drastic and sudden drop in emergency room visits shortly after schools closed and the stay-at-home order came into effect,” said the author of the study, Dr. Tregony Simoneau, assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. “The way this decline has held up over several months is quite notable.”
Why this big drop?
An expert unrelated to the study presented a few possible reasons.
“Viral illnesses are probably the most important trigger of asthma exacerbations,” noted Dr. David Fagan, vice president of outpatient general pediatric-pediatric administration at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY.
“With the lockdown, schools closing and families staying at home, we’ve seen a sudden sharp drop in cases of [non-COVID] viral illnesses such as the flu, ”Fagan said. So, with reduced virus transmission, one might expect a decrease in exacerbations. ”
Allergens in the air are another potential trigger for asthma attacks, he added. “Again, because of the mask wear, social distancing, we had a very mild to no spring allergy season,” Fagan noted, and this could also have helped keep the asthma flares at bay.
In the new study, published online Dec. 4 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, the Boston team followed the medical records of children and young adults aged 2 to 22 who visited the hospital’s emergency department for asthma treatment from Jan.5 to May 23 during three distinct years: 2018, 2019 and 2020.
In the Boston area, the stay-at-home order closed schools, daycares, and after-school programs this year. For the study, the researchers separated from January 5 to March 21 and from March 22 to May 23 the “before and after closure” categories.
By Ernie Mundell and Cara Murez HealthDay Reporters