Why Asthma Attacks Spike in September—And What to Do About It

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By Deneen Vojta and Ruchi Gupta

Many people associate springtime with asthma attacks, in large part due to increased exposure to pollens as flowers and plants start to bloom. But some studies show asthma attacks spike during the fall, when more people—especially children—go to the hospital because of asthma-related complications than any other time of the year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

About 1 in 12 Americas have asthma, a chronic condition that makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs and may trigger wheezing, chest tightness and coughing. It is also among the most expensive chronic conditions to treat, with the economic burden estimated at $62 billion due to medical costs, loss in work productivity and school absences.

There isn’t a cure for asthma, which is generally caused by environmental and genetic factors. The condition is treatable with a combination of medication and avoiding or eliminating triggers; however, an estimated 50 percent of adults—and 40 percent of children—with asthma don’t have control of their condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With that in mind, consider these four tips to help reduce the risk of asthma-related issues during the fall and yearlong:  

Avoid Causes of the Common Cold

Part of the fall spike in asthma-related complications is due to back-to-school season, with packed classrooms that spread cold-causing germs. Catching a cold or the flu can trigger asthma, so parents and children should wash their hands regularly and avoid close contact to people who may be ill. In addition, the CDC recommends flu shots for everyone six months and older, especially for older Americans and people with certain chronic conditions.

Limit Exposure to Air Pollutants

Avoiding exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollutants is crucial. In fact, nearly 40 percent of all asthma attacks are triggered by something in the home, including irritants such as tobacco smoke, dust mites, cockroach allergens, rodents and mold. Poorly maintained housing and polluted areas put people at a higher risk of developing asthma. Removing irritants such as dust and mold, particularly in the child’s bedroom, can help reduce the frequency and intensity of asthma attacks.

Follow Medications as Prescribed

Most children with asthma take two inhaler medications—a daily “controller” medication of corticosteroids to help prevent an onset of an attack, and a rescue inhaler for breathing troubles. Missing multiple days of the prescribed medication, or overuse of a rescue inhaler, may contribute to complications. By following recommended medication frequency and dosage—along with discussing any questions or concerns with their doctor—people can improve their well-being and reduce avoidable trips to the ER.

Consider Connected Devices

A growing number of health plans and care providers are starting to test “smart inhalers,” which uses Bluetooth technology and mobile apps to send real-time data back to parents and health professionals to help them monitor medication usage patterns. Other connected devices can measure indoor air quality, offering real-time feedback to help people reduce exposure to potential irritants.  

For some people asthma is a nuisance, while for others it can be life-threatening due to sudden-onset asthma attacks. In fact, there are more than 1.7 million asthma-related visits to the ER each year. Keeping these tips in mind may help reduce the risk of complications during the fall and year-round.

Deneen Vojta, M.D., executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, and Ruchi Gupta, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

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