Next week, Thursday could be the worst day of the year for people with asthma. If past experience holds, on September 23 there will be 3 times more asthma-related deaths and 4 times more asthma-related hospitalizations than on any other day of the year.
Clinical studies have shown that asthma symptoms peak 17 days after Labor Day. This day has the highest number of hospitalizations and deaths due to asthma, a phenomenon known as "the September Asthma Epidemic."
This happens because an estimated 60 to 90 percent of asthma patients have an allergic component to their disease, and exposure to allergens inflames airways, causing them to spasm and spark asthma attacks. In September, airborne allergens such as leaf mold and ragweed pollen are prevalent. In addition, once back in the classroom, children are exposed to a range of allergens and viruses they have perhaps avoided all summer, such as pet dander on classmates' clothing. Combine this with the fact that kids now spend most time indoors after a summer of playing outside, and you have the perfect asthma storm.
Robert Reinhardt, MD, Senior Director of Medical, Regulatory, and Quality for Phadia, the global leader in allergy testing, says, "People with asthma can reduce symptoms by working with their physician to identify allergies that set off their asthma and create a customized asthma action plan geared toward allergen avoidance. Taking this simple step often reduces symptoms to the extent that the use of asthma medications can likewise be reduced significantly."
Some of the basic steps that Dr. Reinhardt recommends for people with asthma include:
- Get tested for allergies. It is easiest to avoid allergens when you know which ones to target. Your primary care physician, pediatrician or allergist can order a simple blood test, such as the ImmunoCAP in vitro allergy test, to quickly and precisely diagnose your allergies. This information enables physicians to personalize the asthma action plan specifically to your unique case.
- Avoid allergens. The best way to prevent allergic asthma symptoms is to avoid the allergens causing them. Indoor allergens, such as dust mite or pet dander, are easier to control than outdoor allergens, such as tree pollen or Bermuda grass. If allergy testing reveals sensitization to dust mite, mold or furry pets, create a "safe sleeping zone" in the bedroom to reduce the presence of allergens by keeping pets out of the bedroom, using allergen-proof pillows and mattress encasings, vacuuming frequently with a HEPA vacuum and using a HEPA air filter.
- Stock up. Make sure that your child has all of his or her asthma medications, including a quick relief inhaler to keep on hand at all times. All 50 states now permit students to carry asthma inhalers with them in the classroom and elsewhere around the school, an initiative spearheaded by Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA).
Nancy Sander, president and founder of AANMA, says, "The good news is, following a personalized, written asthma action plan, as recommended by NIH Asthma Guidelines, can eliminate most asthma hospitalizations and deaths at any time of year. Create the asthma action plan with an asthma expert, one who has both the time and training to help you focus your energies where you'll get results rapidly and with as minimal disruption as necessary."
Dr. Reinhardt adds: "NIH National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) guidelines direct the medical community to incorporate allergen identification and targeted exposure reduction as part of a comprehensive asthma management plan for asthma patients. Yet, to this day awareness among patients and physicians about the role of allergies in asthma attacks remains limited, and NAEPP guidelines are seldom followed. This despite the fact that inexpensive and reliable in vitro blood tests are available that can provide precise measurement of allergic triggers and severity of the underlying allergies."